Sunday, March 18, 2007


I don't think anyone who reads/buys books regularly will be surprised at the news that Waterstones (aka HMV) has got caught napping by the nation's book/CD buying habits and is having to look at its business again. I used to go to Waterstones all the time, but what would be the point nowadays? An example. Although I'd already bought it from Amazon, when I was in the slick new Arndale Waterstones a week or two ago, I looked through their poetry shelf to see if they had the new Faber collected Louis Macniece. Bear in mind this is a well-reviewed book, by a respected publisher, in the anniversary year of the poet. Nowhere to be seen. But of course, I wasn't surprised, and it hardly mattered, because I'd already got it from Amazon at a discount. This was a book I'd heard about through the usual ways - the books pages of the Times and Guardian (in articles on Macneice rather than a review per se), and which Amazon had kindly pointed me to. Imagine that scenario happening with every other book lover - no wonder Waterstones etc. finds its sales down. HMV would be the same. Whereas I will still make a date with Fopp, because you simply never know what you'll find there (and you always find something), HMV and Waterstones are as dull and predictable as the Tesco vegetable counter. Apparently, Robert Topping, who used to run Waterstones in Manchester in his glory days, is opening a new bookshop in Bath. That will no doubt be worth going to next time you're in that town; whilst I read with interest (albeit with a little amazement, given how complex it used to be to actually buy a book there!) that Foyles is opening a branch at the new St. Pancras. We are, perhaps, developing "Intellectual markets" to join our "Farmers Markets", and the venerable corporates are left to become bookslops, where only the endless mediocre detritus of the mainstream publishing industries will find a ready market.

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