Now, the irony that thousands of independent book retailers don’t feel all that different about Waterstone’s itself isn’t lost on us. It probably isn’t lost on Daunt, either. After all, he’s the founder of Daunt Books, a chain of six fiercely independent bookshops which, with their wooden floors and literary staff, are the polar opposite of the company he now runs. In fact, we wouldn’t be entirely surprised if he’d waxed critical of Waterstone’s once in a while since he started the business 20 years ago.
So it’s no surprise that, with plans to make each shop focus more on its local community, Daunt has clearly decided to steer Waterstone’s in the direction of his old company, rather than trying to compete with Amazon. Although that could be something to do with a resounding antipathy towards technology. ‘The computer screen is a terrible environment in which to select books,’ he said. ‘All that "If you read this, you’ll like that" – it’s a dismal way to recommend books. A physical bookshop in which you browse, see, hold, touch and feel books is the environment you want.’
Hmm. That’s one way to turn around the chain, which was bought by Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut in the summer, who promptly drafted in Daunt. Although there are indications that Daunt doesn’t find Amazon’s approach entirely repellent: apparently, Waterstone’s is in the process of developing its own version of Amazon’s e-reader, the Kindle. ‘Perhaps we’ll call it the Windle,’ he said. If we didn’t know better, we’d say that’s exactly the sort of creative insight that got Waterstone’s into £170m worth of debt in the first place...
Still: if there’s one man who knows the book business, it’s Daunt. Expect big changes at your local Waterstone’s.