James Daunt speaks to Brookes Publishing students
by Andri Nel
‘Bookshops are made of the books in them’
When we heard that James Daunt would be coming to speak to the department on Tuesday 6 October a wave of excitement swept through our MA Publishing class. We all knew that Daunt had been somewhat of a saving grace for Waterstones, but as many of us were international students, having the opportunity to hear from Daunt in person was even more of a treat.
Daunt was very open in sharing how Waterstones has gone from a net income loss of tens of millions and a 26% market drop starting in 2009, to being almost stable in 2015. The question on everyone’s lips was how did Daunt manage to do this? His answer was simple; ‘it was about changing what booksellers did’.
Costs had to be cut in some places, but Daunt has another strategy to pull Waterstones from the ashes. Up to the point when Daunt took over publishers had been paying bookshops to place their books in windows and all tables at the front of the shops were dominated by those publishers that had the capital to pay. This was happening in every Waterstones across the country, in exactly the same way. It resulted in books from smaller publishers ending up at the back of the store where no one ever saw them and the front of the shops being very similar. Daunt’s history in independent bookselling has always led him to believe that bookshops are places of discovery and should be inviting. As he stated: ‘If you know what you want to read you go to Amazon, that is not why you go into a bookshop.’ Daunt also knows that not all customers are the same and thus a bookshop in London and one in Oxford should not be selling the same type of books. The power was given back to the booksellers and Waterstones is on a road to reimagining their stores according to their specific geographic location and customer base. Booksellers have been embracing this challenge of making their bookshop their own.
It was Daunt’s passion for booksellers that caught my attention. Bookselling has long been viewed as not being a long-term career and Daunt wants to change that. Waterstones now aims to pay their booksellers better, provide opportunity for growth and award their booksellers. ‘Central is the relationship between booksellers and readers’, Daunt pointed out, and said curation of bookshops can only be done successfully by motivated booksellers.
Answering a question relating to an article in The Bookseller about Waterstones removing Kindles from their stores, Daunt simply replied that sales have gone down, and added with a smile that they had started doing this in April; it was interesting that the media had only caught on in October. Kindles had been placed in the stores originally because that was that readers wanted, and now they did not, and that, at the heart of it, was what I took from Daunt’s talk.
Bookshops are about the readers, and it is up to the booksellers to provide them with a service that is more than just selling a book - it is also providing an experience. As an aspiring publisher I believe we can all learn from Daunt’s passion for readers. We are in a time when publishers can no longer rely on bookshops only to sell books and we need to understand and curate that same love that we have for our books with our readers. This is definitely something I have learnt during my first few weeks on the Brookes MA Publishing course and it is making me very excited for the future of publishing and bookselling in general.
About the author of this article
Andri Nel is a MA Digital Publishing student originally from South Africa. She loves blogging on her blog The Loud Library, has an extreme case of wanderlust and is passionate cultivating a better reading cultures under children through a venture called KliekClick
Last edited: 13 10 2015