May 29, 2012

James Daunt “doesn’t get” reaction to Amazon partnership, denies ever calling Amazon the “devil,” and lashes out at publishers


James Daunt, seen in an official Waterstones video explaining the deal with Amazon

A week after his bombshell announcement that Waterstone‘s would be selling Kindles and thereby collaborating with Amazon — the company he had called a “ruthless, moneymaking devil” in a major interview with the Independent — company CEO James Daunt has given a new round of interviews protesting the coverage of his decision and denying the criticism of Amazon he had let stand for over six months amidst widespread industry applause.

“It’s just not the sort of thing I would say,” Daunt claims now of his widely hailed comments regarding Amazon to the Independent, in a new interview with the Mail on Sunday.

And Daunt really bristles when asked about the overwhelming industry response to the move — that is, that in addition to the apparent hypocrisy of the decision, he’d simply made a collosal mistake: “I just don’t get this idea that we have sold oursleves to Amazon.”

He gives an even testier interview to the Telegraph, to whom he says, “Do I look like a total moron? For goodness sake.”

He doesn’t really address the critics who say he does, however, and who in fact detailed their criticism against the move in rather overwhelming numbers (see the earlier MobyLives report). Instead, he lashes out against publishers. According to the Telegraph report:

He seems frustrated that publishers are disenchanted with him, after they had been so excited when he was hired by Waterstones’ new owner, Alexander Mamut, the Russian oligarch.

“If publishers who are grappling with a rapidly changing environment want to pin on me the blame for x or y brand name selling less, at the same time as their digital sales going through the roof, they just can’t have it both ways. That process of adjustment is difficult.”

He sounds a bit fed up, and looks fairly exhausted.

Too exhausted, it seems, to answer what the publishers actually said, or the many critics, such as market analysts, in addition, all of whom had wondered not about the sanity of selling ebooks or ereading devices, of course, but of selling them in partnership with a vicious monopolistic competitor, and of feeding a loyal client base already in hand into that particular maw.

It’s a strange business when a retailer sides not with the publishers who supply him, nor the writers, agents, and analysts who seem more readily his partners than not … but rather a cut-throat competitor he once labeled the devil.

But perhaps Mr. Daunt didn’t actually make these latest comments, either.


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