WaterstonesThere’s been quite a bit of pickup of the recent Financial Times story on Waterstone’s, which supposedly supports a shift in UK reader appetite back towards printed books, where James Daunt, Waterstones CEO, said sales of which “disappeared to all intents and purposes”, according to James Daunt, chief executive. There are just a few flaws in the narrative, though.

For one thing, Daunt also disclosed a 5 per cent physical book sales rise in December – yes, the height of the Christmas buying season. That’s hardly a massive resurgence of interest in the printed book. And although further reporting in the FT and elsewhere produced additional figures to support that trend in the US, Nielsen BookScan numbers quoted by the FT actually show a 1.3 per cent decline in physical book scales overall in the UK.

Furthermore, as the FT concedes, the falloff in Kindle sales appears to be more of a question of the waning of the popularity of the dedicated one-purpose ereader than a consequence of falling ebook sales. One of the Kindle’s key attractions to date has always been its price, and now that the lower end of the tablet market has adequate multipurpose alternatives around the same price point, there may no longer be a real reason for anyone to opt for the Kindle.

Finally, there’s the fact that, as the FT remarks, “Waterstones has spent millions refurbishing its stores and has shed a third of its shop staff and half of its managers since it was sold by HMV to Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut in 2011.” And its new strategy apparently includes handing discretionary control over to local managers. How many of them have been eagerly promoting the Kindle?

All in all, there seems to be far too little objective evidence for a real push back to print to buttress the hopes of the ebook Luddites.



  1. In the US, the Christmas season accounts–at many stores–for 3/4 of the yearly business. When I was a bookseller we’d have assumed ourselves headed for bankruptcy at a 5% increase in December. This seems to be a matter of a statistic being capable of saying anything depending on where you slice it.

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