Waterstone's necessary for discoverability, says Page

The safeguarding of Waterstone's future will secure the midlist of history and science writing, literary fiction and memoir, the m.d. of Faber has said.

Stephen Page, writing in the Guardian, said if the Waterstone's acquisition by Alexander Mamut goes ahead, it would be "tremendous" news for readers and writers. He said: "Despite all the noise about e-books and online marketing, bookshops are still at the heart of creating audiences for books."

Page said as shops close, sales are not matched by the growth of purchases online. "Recently it was claimed that when Borders closed in the UK as many as 46% of its shoppers simply didn't buy books anymore, once the impulse of visiting the shop was absent." He cited BML Bowker data which said UK shoppers make twice as many impulse purchases in physical shops as they do online. He said "discoverability" of new titles was still dependent on physical bookshops, regardless of the work publishers do on digital marketing.

He said: "Clearly, readers are happy to browse for books and e-books online, and Amazon et al do a superb job of serving the online customer. But it's equally clear that online choice can be overwhelming and the lack of 'signposting' problematic—roblems that were easily solved in the traditional comfort of the good bookshop. If that were to diminish quickly, we may jump from Long Tail to Cheshire Cat: the grinning faces of dominant bestsellers, with the larger body of publishing hardly visible."

He said a mixed economy of physical bookshops and digital marketing publishing and shopping was the best solution for the consumer. However, he stressed this would take time as readers change their reading habits and retailers need to strike a balance between online and offline offer.

He said: "The new ownership of Waterstone's should ensure that a breathing space to evolve the model exists, and that publishers and writers have a sizeable high-street partner to work with to make this rich new world flesh. Until last week, there was a real danger that the mid-list would vanish from view and become a ghostly memory: a great loss for our culture and for the pleasure of readers everywhere."