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Daunt on bookselling

19 March 2018

It's unusual to find a book chain boss who went into bookselling because he liked reading, but James Daunt, founder of Daunts bookshop chain in London, and CEO of the Waterstones chain in the UK, is that rare animal. Encouragingly, he still maintains that: 'Books still work and always will'.

In an interview in the Guardian prompted by the fact that the Waterstones chain is currently for sale, he had two particularly encouraging things to say:

‘I've always said people will continue to read physical books. Electronically, it was simply a question of whether [take-up] would be 10% or 30%. If it was 10%, that would be fine and we'd be quite rich, if 20% we'd be not very rich, and if it reached 30%, we would be dead. It happens to be 20%, but it's never going to be more. We didn't know how much it would reach and when it would stop growing, but we knew it would stop at some point. Reading electronically is a very different experience. E-reading is dropping slightly at the moment, but it hasn't gone away.'

His support for the physical book is striking:

‘Physical books remain wonderful entertainment and a source of inspiration. They are crucial for the development and education of young people, or as an escape, or even politically - for instance, Fire and Fury [Michael Wolff's exposé] has been a real political event. Books still work and I think they always will. Bookshops need to be able to be invigorating places. If not, then they can see big trouble - look at [US book chain] Barnes & Noble, which is having a difficult time.'

At a time when the threat to bookstores from Amazon has never been starker, Daunt also has encouraging things to say about how independents, which in both the UK and the US seem to be staging something of a revival, can survive and prosper:

‘Really work very hard and respect the customer. If you do all those things and are friendly, then it's going to be fine. If you don't respect the customer and aren't interesting and lively with them, then Amazon will take you out of business.'

Even in this age of internet purchase, bookshops pay a key part in promoting and selling books to book-buyers. We can only hope that Waterstones and Banes & Noble survive in their current form and continue to function as pathways to readers.

The full interview