Waterstones has U-turned on its decision to brand a new branch in Edinburgh "Stockbridge Books", following an outcry from a nearby independent bookseller. Instead the store will be branded as a Waterstones.
On Monday (14th May) the chain retailer revealed plans to open a new, unbranded store in Edinburgh in spring 2019, located in Raeburn Place in the Stockbridge area of the city. However, the announcement quickly drew ire from independent Golden Hare Books, also based in Stockbridge, who accused chief executive James Daunt of reneging on his pledge not to open a bookshop near an independent.
Julie Danskin, manager of the store, particularly took issue with it being branded Stockbridge Books instead of Waterstones. “There was a Stockbridge Books which closed down after the rise in e-book sales, and people loved that shop, they still talk about it, so I think it is insensitive really,” she told The Bookseller yesterday, adding “James Daunt talks a lot about an even playing field and working with independent brands, but this is essentially backtracking on his previous statements."
Other independent bookshops also voiced their concern over the move on Twitter.
However, Daunt has now said naming the store after the local area had been a “mistake”.
“It has been a little bit a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing, which can happen in large companies,” he told The Bookseller. “Clearly we need to call it a Waterstones. I have spoken to Julie who seems passionate and sensible, we should be able to rub along perfectly well together.
“The shop we are opening isn’t next door, it is the same distance away between Daunt Books in Hampstead and the Waterstones in Hampstead, it is across the river. But we will now be calling it a Waterstones, it is unfortunate that we made that mistake.”
When asked if the company had changed its stance on not opening up new stores in places which already had thriving independents, Daunt said: “Absolutely not. We will not be operating in a predatory way.
“Independent book shops have their place. It’s big chains like Waterstones who need to be responsible. We shouldn’t cut prices or do deals to undermine independent booksellers — we all have something to offer communities.”
Danskin said she was delighted with the news. “It feels like a small victory,” she said. “I think it does make a difference, it is certainly a better situation than we found ourselves in on Monday. It was very much the branch masquerading as an indie that we had a problem with. I found it a bit strange it was going to be called Stockbridge Books given that Golden Hare is an important part of the literary scene there and has been for the last four years.”
She added: “What we have been amazed by is the support from the community and the literary community. Author Val McDermid tweeted her support for us, that has really meant a lot, along with other independent booksellers.
“I hope Waterstones will think about other independents before planning to open their next bookshop, because there are some communities that will not respond well to it.”
Companies which leapt to Golden Hare's defence this week include the Edinburgh-based indie publisher Charco Press, which tweeted: “We wouldn't change you for anything! Readers out there: support independent bookshops and please support Golden Hare. We -as a new, independent publisher- owe a lot to the unconditional support we have received from these guys since Day 1. We are here with you.”
Warwick Books said: “I am so disappointed and dismayed. So many places without a bookshop that at the very least could have a Waterstones...but no...let’s just make it harder for some indies who are already doing amazing work in hostile high street conditions.”
While Val McDermid tweeted: “We have a perfectly good indie bookshop in Stockbridge, thank you.”
Waterstones began opening unbranded stores named after the locations they are based in the summer of 2014, starting with The Southwold Bookshop. The stores were highlighted in the mainstream press last year, with the BBC reporting the chain was “under fire” for opening “secret shops”. However, Daunt said at the time that the media coverage had not "put him off" opening more unbranded stores, moreover that he had received several requests from members of the public to open branches in their local areas.
Daunt has previously said the chain did not intend to open branches in areas which already had thriving independent bookshops, but instead towns with no bookshop presence. "They are very small shops in towns that had independents and very much wish they still had independents but don’t,” he told the Guardian last year.
A majority stake in Waterstones was sold to Elliott Advisors last month, with former owner Alexander Mamut retaining a minority stake in the retailer. At the time, Daunt said the retailer’s new parent should mean the 283-store chain will grow a lot faster and continue to open fresh stores.