May 24, 2011

A Daunting surprise for Waterstone's


Troubled UK book chain Waterstone’s has finally been sold for a huge £53 million (around $85 million). The sale finally went through at the end of last week after several months of speculation, with Russian businessman Alexander Mamut financing the deal.

In a surprising move, James Daunt will be taking over from Dominic Myers as managing director. Daunt has over twenty years of bookselling experience and is the founder of UK independent bookstore Daunt Books. After less than two years with Waterstone’s, Myers will be taking a new role at HMV Group and Daunt will be stepping into his shoes early next month.

Contrary to rumours, a news report at The Bookseller reveals that the company’s founder, Tim Waterstone, has not been offered a role in the future of Waterstone’s, in spite of speculation that he was preparing a deal with Mamut. So far it’s unclear why Waterstone has not been involved in the reacquisition of his namesake company, however Daunt offered the following statement regarding Waterstone,

“Tim is a great friend of Daunt bookshop and a customer here and I am sure we will benefit from his wisdom, but he is not in this at all, he is not taking an advisory role.”

An additional report at The Bookseller outlines some of Daunt’s plans for the troubled chain, including replenishing stock levels and tailoring stores to fit their communities. Daunt Books is a great store, and so the new blood should be of some comfort to Waterstone’s, which has recently been forced to close 20 of its branches. However many of Daunt’s aims for the chain sound strangely familiar to previous efforts to revitalise the business over the past few years.

In any case, publishers and other trade outlets have reacted positively to the news that Daunt will be taking a leading role in the company. Among others, Tom Holland, president of the Society of Authors, stressed the importance of the book chain and its continuing presence in UK town centres, saying, “the ability to go into shops and browse fosters the habit of reading and makes a statement about the centrality of publishing and books to the culture and the retail economy of this country.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives