Harry Routley on the new page in Waterstones’ book

For years, Waterstones has marketed itself as the greatest defender of the physical book, combining the variety of Amazon with the feel and atmosphere of a local bookshop.

With an incredible 80% increase in profits over 2017, it would appear that this attitude has finally been vindicated. Considering that the company only became profitable in 2016 for the first time since the 2008 Financial Crash, this increase in profits becomes all the more impressive. This raises the question of just how the leader in an industry that appeared to be crumbling after the rise of the e-book managed to totally transform their business model into one capable of delivering such impressive profit margins. #

Upon looking at the financial report in more detail, it was apparent that non-book items contributed significantly to sales last year, with cards, stationery and toys making up around 10 percent of turnover. Many examples of Waterstones stationary feature designs from classics such as Jane Eyre or 1984, creating a consistent theme among the company’s entire catalogue. A customer may go looking for a book but leave the store with a themed journal and bookmark to complement their original purchase. The intent behind this strategy is to position Waterstones as the place for people to go to who truly love books whereas a Kindle is used by those who really quite like them.

Another factor to consider is how for some, acknowledgement of having read a book is just as important as actually having read it. The Managing Director of Waterstones, James Daunt, stated that Michael Wolff’s ‘Fire and Fury’ is the kind of book that will send readers into Waterstones rather than the Kindle marketplace, possibly because simply being seen reading it creates the opportunity for conversation and debate. Having read a certain book is now something to brag about.

Ultimately, Waterstones may have saved the mainstream physical books market with their strong focus on physical books as a specialised interest, encouraging those who are passionate about reading as a hobby to go to the only high street retailer that still truly caters to it.


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Harry Routley