Luke Johnson Agrees With Me

Waterstones LogoA few months ago I wrote this:

As readers shift to digital, the economics of book shops will become skewed, favouring online emporia. Booksellers can react by hand-selling to customers and making themselves relevant, in the way that Raven Books in Blackrock, Co Dublin, has. (I am increasingly sure of finding a pile of relevant books there every time I walk in). No doubt this will mean concentrating on older, out-of-print, and second-hand books, titles that appeal directly to the customer, and print-on-demand works (though I am less convinced of the economic case for this).

Whatever way you look at it, as a big book-buyer I should be a chain store’s best customer. Instead, like many avid readers, I’m what’s killing them.

The Sunday Times – Think Tank: Lost In The Amazon
Eoin Purcell’s Blog – Bookshop Are Dead And I Killed Them

Then today I read an interview with Luke Johnson who ran Borders for a time. this is what he said:

I bought Borders thinking we could turn it around. I believed wrongly we could reverse the downturn in high street book sales. It’s a great sadness that we couldn’t. In my opinion, the high street book store is doomed.

He did say, that there was hope for stores like Watersones and that:

Publishers I’ve spoken to agree that the one-size-fits-all bookstore doesn’t have a future. But there is still room for independents that know their customers.

I agree the local independent have a chance. But the utterly depressing reality is that at least in the UK and Ireland, big high street stores are in trouble. Eason remains dominant here and may well gain some advantage from that, especially as supermarkets have been slower to take big steps into books (though Tesco is having an impact) but the slide is inevitable.

It contrasts fairly remarkably with the confidence of Barnes & Noble as pointed to in the last post.

One point that struck me yesterday was Waterstone’s belief in the power of ebook sales to drive their growth in their press release they said they had and ‘Excellent start for e-books at, approaching one million downloads.’

That makes two major booksellers on different sides of the water with hope of decent sales of ebooks. Interesting news I think anyway. perhaps if they can peel some of the sales away from Amazon in print, drive for sales in ebooks and slowly but surely wind down their bricks and mortar stores, they can avoid the downfall scenario I had originally envision and emerge as slimmer chains selling mostly virtually.

Here’s hoping,

3 thoughts on “Luke Johnson Agrees With Me

  1. Bookstores are nothing but a display room for eBooks now. Before eBooks, they were, for me, an advance display case for public library borrowing. At least here in the U.S., Barnes & Noble recognizes this and has brought out its own device. Still, how much can that help them down the road? They don’t create the content — although they have been publishers (and are now trying to be a Smashwords with PubIt).

    1. Mike,

      I think you have it 3/4s right. For most of the market they are display cases and that’s no bad thing. We need good displays to sell books. But for some fo the market there will be demand for print (it seems to me expensive hardbacks and very cheap paperbacks but many would say no cheap paperbacks).

      I’m not sure they have a future, but they sure seem intent on playing in the digital space pretty actively. I say go for it, there’s money to be made that’s for sure.


      1. >>>and that’s no bad thing

        It’s a very bad thing for the person paying rent on the store and not making any cut from the person who leaves and buys the eBook! Google thinks it’s got a solution for that. I doubt it!

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