What a journey it has been for Waterstones’ MD James Daunt. He opened a single shop, Daunt Books for Travellers, in 1991 and now, following the news that Waterstones’ owners New York hedge fund Elliott Management Corp is poised to acquire US chain Barnes & Noble for $476m, finds himself about to be running some 927 bookshops, comprising 627 Barnes & Nobles, 293 Waterstones (including branches in Brussels and Amsterdam) and 7 Foyles (including the Charing Cross Road flagship in London) not forgetting ownership of nine Daunt Books and three further independents which are part of the Daunt chain. James Daunt is western bookselling.
In a note to staff, Barnes & Noble’s founding Chairman Len Riggio said: “As you know, the Company has been seeking a new owner since October of last year. You should also know that there were many interested parties in the sale process, including others in our industry.
“The transaction will take several months to be completed since it requires a shareholder vote, and regulatory approval. During that time, our management team will work with James so that he can hit the ground running. They will also continue working on the many strategic initiatives, which are already underway.
“As it happens, I know James Daunt fairly well, and I am delighted to have him as our new leader. He is a bookseller through and through, and I expect he will make a big difference in our fortunes. Like me, James believes our culture has to be more store-centric, which means more localization of assortments and operations. It follows that he believes local managers must have more authority to get the job done.”
Daunt said: “Physical bookstores the world over face fearsome challenges from online and digital, a complex array of difficulties that for ease and some evident reason we lay at the door of Amazon.
“Our purpose is to create, by investment and old fashioned bookselling skill, bookshops good enough to be a pleasure in their own right and to have no equal as a place in which to choose a book.
“We counter thereby Amazon’s siren call and defend the continued existence of real bookshops. We do so now with all the more confidence for being able to draw on the unrivalled bookselling skills of these two great companies.”
The news will be welcomed in the US in particular, where publishers have been worried about the long term future of Barnes & Noble for some time. In the UK, while publishers will be heartened by this endorsement of physical bookselling, there may be some concern that Daunt’s eye will be inevitably taken off Waterstones to some extent. But that is some way down the line. For the time being, there is an even greater feeling of respect for Daunt and his achievements.