US press assesses 'literary tastemaker' Daunt's arrival at Barnes & Noble

US press assesses 'literary tastemaker' Daunt's arrival at Barnes & Noble

The US press has been assessing the likely impact of James Daunt as the Waterstones boss prepares to take over Barnes & Noble.

Daunt will split his time between London and New York after Waterstones owner Elliott’s bid to buy the troubled chain was accepted by a majority of shareholders this week.

In a piece entitled "Can Britain's Top Bookseller Save Barnes & Noble?", the New York Times described Daunt as a “soft-spoken 55-year-old with a puckish smile and iron resolve” who had defied the naysayers to save Waterstones and was about to become a “literary tastemaker” second to only Oprah Winfrey.

It also pointed out his unusual taste in holidays – backpacking through Ethiopia or Cuba, and sometimes sleeping in a cave during trips to Jura off Scotland’s west coast.

The new B&N boss told the paper there was a lot of work to be done at the US chain. He said: “Frankly, at the moment you want to love Barnes & Noble, but when you leave the store you feel mildly betrayed. Not massively, but mildly. It’s a bit ugly — there’s piles of crap around the place. It all feels a bit unloved, the booksellers look a bit miserable, it’s all a bit run down.

“And every year, fewer people come in, or people come in less often. That has to turn around. Otherwise …”

Meanwhile, a piece in the Wall Street Journal focused on “widely respected” Daunt bringing his successful Waterstones approach across the Atlantic by running the chain’s 627 stores like indies, tailoring stock to their locales.

As at Waterstones, Daunt said he would ditch placement payments, something the paper claimed had cut returns at the UK business from 25% to 3%.

He told the paper: “Barnes & Noble is what Waterstones used to be. They run identical bookshops up and down the country. You should do what you want; there are no restrictions on what books you stock, how you display them, what you promote. Each bookshop is quite individual.”

The Journal also claimed it was Daunt who convinced Elliott his homegrown strategy would work at the US retail giant.

However, Brian Murray, c.e.o. of HarperCollins Publishers in the US, warned American consumers were more influenced by the media, meaning shops could be left short on titles with high national demand if they focus too much on local input. He told the paper: “James has the experience, he knows in his gut how to be a bookseller. He has to quickly learn how the US is different to the UK and figure out how to execute on his vision.”

Lorraine Shanley, president of US publishing consultancy Market Partners International, told The Bookseller this week there was a huge amount of goodwill in the States towards Daunt.

She said: “Everyone's excited that Barnes & Noble has new leadership, and James Daunt is known and respected. The fact that he's been an independent bookseller, has also run a chain, and is a known quantity to Elliott, gives him a lot of runway. Grappling with the US market will have its challenges, but the industry will be rooting for his success.”