A "gentleman's agreement" is allowing trade to continue over the crucial pre-Christmas period between Waterstone's and publishers with which it has not yet agreed terms.
A number of publishers have yet to complete negotiations with the high street chain, with a range of discount issues being debated. However, as the high street bookseller unveiled a new board of directors this week—led by a businesswoman with links to Barnes & Noble—publishers say business is continuing as usual, on an understanding that final terms will be applied retrospectively.
Some publishers have criticised poor communication from Waterstone's and uncertainty about the new buying structure. "We don't know who's buying what and when," said one. "Ordering for mid-list titles, which previously would have been handled via reps, is now happening very late in the day."
However, Egmont sales director Gillian Laskier, who said the publisher had reached an agreement on "eminently sensible" terms with Waterstone's, criticised publishers who failed to back the chain. "It is fair to say that their brand new structure is in a transitional period," Laskier said.
"But less than six months ago people were really worried that Waterstone's would not be around this Christmas. Now they're around, with plans for energising the business, with a new injection of cash, and plans for the future, and for any publisher not to be supportive of that is barking mad."
Waterstone's new board of directors is chaired by Liberty Global employee Miranda Curtis, whose sister company Liberty Media recently bought a 16.6% stake in Barnes & Noble.
Waterstone's m.d. James Daunt is the board's executive director and its owner, Alexander Mamut, is a non-executive member. Other members include Profile chairman Nicholas Perren; Dennis Stevenson, former chairman of Pearson and HBOS; and Marina Groenberg, like Mamut a Moscow State University graduate, who is now c.e.o. of Mamut's A&NN Group. The board will meet for the first time this month and then convene every two months.
Perren told The Bookseller: "I find the combination of Mamut and Daunt's bookselling and business skills is irresistible . . . Miranda is a great appointment, she has terrific experience—especially in digital space."
Curtis said she was "proud to accept the chairmanship of Waterstone's", and Daunt said the board was "united by their respect for the arts and understanding of the pivotal role played by high street booksellers in the promotion and support of literature".