When I go shopping in King’s Lynn, I always build an additional half an hour into the trip so I have time to pop into the local Waterstones shop. There is something about Waterstones and its rows of colourful book jackets that just draws me in and I will stand flicking idly through books which will never get as far as my own book shelf. Fiction, non-fiction, local authors, staff recommendations, old favourites with new covers, old adversaries from GCSE reading lists – they are all there in their new-paper-smelling, spine-cracking glory.
That is not to say I never buy, far from it. I normally walk out with two, if not three books, and usually one of those little moleskin notepads that always seem like such a good purchase at the time, but usually end up in the cupboard with all the other little moleskin notepads. When will I remember that I have just about forgotten how to use a pen – and those beautiful leather notepads might look and smell beautiful but they don’t have keyboards.
Anyway, the point of this rambling is to sing out my praises for Waterstones. It is a shop that is continuously besieged by its foes. Firstly, it faced cheap online books from Amazon.
“This is the end for the high street bookshop,” proclaimed all and sundry. Many bookshops, sadly, did fall by the wayside, but not Waterstones. It got up from the blow, shook itself down, opened a few in-store coffee shops, invited some famous authors to do public readings and weathered the storm.
The next threat came from the world of technology. The Kindle and all its manifestations appeared on the market and suddenly books were not just old hat, they were heavy items that you did not want to carry around. Why limit yourself to one holiday book when you could download 10, 20, 30 titles on to your tablet? There were vast numbers of column inches dedicated to the great debate: ‘Book or Kindle?” And once more, Waterstones weathered the storm, going so far as stocking Kindles in its stores and facing the enemy full on.
And now this – a second offensive from Amazon. Not content with flooding the market with cheap books and forcing most independent book shops out of business, the online shopping giant is now going against the very model that made it a success – being a never-ending bookshop that was not reliant on having books on its shelves. Amazon is opening its first bookshop in the USA and it is expected to open stores in the UK soon.
It is an assault to Waterstones’ very heartland and one that, if the opening salvos are anything to go by, will be the bloodiest battle yet. The managing director of Waterstones, James Daunt, has already said that “I very much hope that it falls flat on its face.”
Over in this corner of West Norfolk, this ardent Waterstones fan is also hoping that Amazon falls flat on its face.