Excellent Evening Standard magazine profile of Waterstones’ James Daunt:
We have a lot of different markets.’ In what way? ‘Much as Asda sells different things to Waitrose. If you pile up the latest celebrity thing in Hampstead for 1p, it ain’t going to sell. And if you pile up an esoteric history in Gateshead, it isn’t going to shift. We have different books on display in Harrogate than we do in Kensington, for blindingly obvious reasons. There’s a different economy outside London. In Middlesbrough half the high street is vacant and there isn’t a lot of money. It’s a town that’s in big trouble, but our shop has reinvented itself there; it’s got rocking horses and pretty much all day long pre-school kids are sploshing about with paint. It’s not the most profitable shop, but it’s got spirit.’
In the Kensington branch they sell a lot of Scrabble and Monopoly. In St Pancras it’s novellas that you might finish on your journey: ‘Those sell in huge quantities.’ In Trafalgar Square it’s Union Jacks; in Walthamstow, they shift ‘a ton’ of camera-lens mugs (left). Huh? ‘It’s a mug with a lens on it. We sell billions.’
So bookshops are surviving on mugs, wrapping paper, cards… ‘There isn’t a bookseller in the world that doesn’t sell stuff that isn’t books.’ He leans in. ‘Booksellers have it really tough in this country. I think we’re in the worst position in the world. We have Amazon, Kindle and fierce price competition with supermarkets and we don’t have any of the protection that booksellers have in the US and Europe. And we pay huge taxes through business rates. I’m in the tax brigade. We have responsibilities to the society in which we live and one is paying tax.’ Unlike Amazon… ‘And many other multinationals who do everything they can to avoid it.’ Amazon’s controversial Luxembourg registration, which entails five per cent tax or less, is coming to an end next year. ‘It’s already achieved its purpose, which was for them to achieve market dominance,’ Daunt shrugs. He’s too busy to lobby. He’s hoping to get Waterstones back into airports when BAA’s contract is up for tender.