Thursday, 2 August 2012

A Daunting Time for Waterstones

What the heck is going on at Waterstones. This month we have had wholesale management clearouts and rumours abound about Waterstones ending book signing events for small publishers with the focus concentrating on…you’ve guessed it, the big six. One has to wonder what is coming next in what seems like a meltdown at Waterstones.

One thing is for sure is that these changes do nothing more than consolidate the position of the big six and handicap even further the small guys who are struggling to make a living. By the way Mr Daunt, these are the guys who have week in and week out brought custom and sales to Waterstones on a regular basis with non-discounted books. I should know because we are one of those little guys who have worked tirelessly up until now with the help of some very supportive staff at Waterstones branches the length and breadth of the country. We enjoy in-store book signings. They are a great way for authors to meet new readers and fans. We always support these signings with good local and regional PR to ensure that readers in the area are aware of the event. Sure, not every event is a success but many are. We make new friends, we broaden the reach of our books and we build demand for them. Now if the message from Waterstones is true this may all be coming to an end.

A spokesperson for Waterstones head office said: “We are reviewing the experience that we offer our customers and are moving away from open-ended, handselling events and asking shops to focus on well rounded event programmes that are more engaging in the long term.” The spokesperson added: “The intention is not to immediately cancel events, or to shut anyone out but over time shops might want to adjust the format of certain events and rebalance the activity that they have planned."

And I know what will happen; confusion in its messaging will filter down to branch level ending in many signings being cancelled or simply not arranged. Managers are already confused over ordering titles, now it seems this directive will add further to the murk descending on the once great book chain.

What needs to happen is clear and unequivocal directives from Daunt & Co, not this mish-mash of whispers filtered out from head office. With so many changes, instant resignations of the ‘was he pushed or did he fall’ variety at director and manager level, and bizarre decisions (Amazon springs to mind) at operational level you have to wonder if Daunt is executing a clear master plan or playing euphemistic piƱata, aiming wildly at everything but with a blindfold on.

I for one am beginning to become worried by what is happening at Waterstones.