“We are delivering a really robust and proper profit. This will be the best true and underlying performance for this business for seven to eight years. A genuine, little small piece of black at last.”
At the heart of the revival of Waterstones is a revival in sales of physical books. Industry figures show that sales of paperbacks and hardbacks rose 3% in the first half of 2015, the first increase since 2012.
At the same time, the digital revolution has stalled. Sales of ebooks to consumers are falling and demand for the Kindle e-reader has fallen so much that Daunt has removed them from most of Waterstones’ 280 stores.
“I always believed there would be a natural point of equilibrium with digital reading – that it would overshoot, then come back and settle down. That made intuitive sense, and that indeed has happened,” Daunt explains.
“If you go on a plane or a train on holiday, you will see many more people reading a physical book rather than digital. It is a very different experience [reading an ebook]. You don’t remember it as well. I know it’s not just me. You don’t have the physical relationship. You don’t know where you are in a book. It may say 62% but it doesn’t mean the same thing. You can’t remember what it’s called because you haven’t had the cover.
“Now if you read books that don’t merit that, then fine. That’s why ebooks have been particularly strong amongst romance fiction and just pure escapist reading. That’s really gone digital, heavily digital.
“But books that you want to treasure, look after and sit on your bookshelf – the physical book is a better thing. You are left with a memory; you’ve got something that has an enduring value.