3 for 2

Art & Culture

The end of an era. A new dawn. No, I am not referring to thefact that I recently got married, but rather to the fact that Waterstones willimminently be bringing its iconic 3 for 2 book offer to an end.

As an advocate for independent bookshops I dont much carefor Waterstones. I often find the staff disinterested, stock limited andmainstream, and a distinct lack of locality/personality across the differentbranches. I do, however, recognise the value that Waterstones brings to thepublishing industry, so one mustnt ignore them entirely.

Of course, since HMVsold Waterstones to Alexander Mamut at the end of May and James Daunt wasushered in as managing director, the publishing industry was overtaken by akind of hushed excitement. James Daunt, you see, founded Daunt Books some 20 years ago, thesuccess of which has seen him hailed as one of the most important figures inthe UK book trade. Reportedly he actually pays booksellers a decent wage(unheard of and I talk from experience!), gives his staff responsibilityregarding stock and reacts quickly to the changing market. He is also adamantthat 3 for 2 devalues books and is in actual fact damaging to the book trade inthe long term.

I must admit that I have on occasion succumb to the allureof 3 for 2 but rarely did I actually wantall three books, I just needed themto make a saving. Of course you never quite realise that you only actually readone of the three books and hence end up paying more. Still, at times it wasquite nice, for instance when the Booker Prize shortlist is announced and youcan buy several of the featured books at a discounted rate. The sad truth,though, is that you could probably get the books for cheaper at Amazons anyway!

In the face of the online behemoth that is Amazon Waterstoneshas been underperforming for some time and as the biggest book retailer left inthe country any improvement can only be a good thing. Whether or not Daunt canreplicate the success of his independent bookshops remains to be seen criticsargue the success is mostly down to the affluent locations of his shops. Thedecision to axe 3 for 2 will be the most daring decision of James Daunts tenureat the helm of Waterstone’s, hopefully it will be prove to be the beginning ofa success story. I for one am all for it. 

Matthias Mueller