January 12, 2012

James Daunt takes possession of Waterstone’s punctuation


James Daunt: Do not fuck with this guy

Ever since he took over Waterstone’s, James Daunt has made a series of bold moves.

First, there was his decision—see the earlier MobyLives report—to leave his position as an independent bookseller to see if he could bring Britain’s biggest bookstore chain back from the brink of bankruptcy. Then, no sooner did he take the job than he announced a plan—as per this Bookseller report—for Watersone’s to be less “homogenous,” and to better reflect the neighborhood they were in—not exactly what chains are all about. But “Bookshops should reflect their communities, and that’s obviously going to vary from place to place,” he observed.

Then, he announced he was ending the company’s decade-old—and very popular—“3 for 2” promotion (the practice of selling three books for the price of two). “One of the more pernicious aspects of 3-for-2s is that they are not there because we think they are good books. They are there because publisher A paid X for it and publisher B paid Y for it. If you sell books in that manner you end up with shops that are a lot less vibrant than they should be,” he explained in an interview with the Telegraph. Plus, he said, “you end up plastering stickers over an enormous range of books, it becomes simply irritating.” And the practice made return rates that were “totally insane,” he added.

Then there was the amazing interview with The Independent—see the MobyLives commentary—where he made clear that unlike most CEOs in the book business, he wasn’t going to be shy about speaking out on key issues. He did so by declaring that Amazon, was a “ruthless, money-making devil” that was not operating “in the consumer’s interest.”

And now comes his boldest move of them all. Yesterday, Daunt announced that he was, as a Telegraph report put it, “jettisoning 30 years of bookselling history by altering the punctuation, to become Waterstones.” That’s right: He’s dropping the possessive apostrophe.

There was immediate outrage, says the report: “John Richards, the chairman of the Apostrophe Protection Society, described the change as ‘slapdash’, particularly from a bookshop.” Others were upset that the removal was a bit of an offensive overstatement against company founder Tim Waterstone, who no longer owns the company.

But Daunt stuck to his guns.

“Waterstones without an apostrophe is, in a digital world of URLs and email addresses, a more versatile and practical spelling. It also reflects an altogether truer picture of our business today which, while created by one, is now built on the continued contribution of thousands of individual booksellers,” he said.

And he’s not stopping there, says another Bookseller report: He’s changing the company font to Baskerville. He explained: “Waterstones is an iconic brand deserving a capital W, and a font that reflects authority and confidence—Baskerville does just that.”

Given his track record, the only surprising thing about these dramatic moves is that he didn’t also declare that the logo’s font would be Baskerville Bold.


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