There is a current controversy surrounding whether or not Waterstones are being underhand or manipulative in opening new book stores in Southwold, Rye and Harpenden but withholding the Waterstones company name from the facade. The argument goes that apparently this impersonation of an independent bookshop is damaging the high street by killing off the real indie bookshops, like Goliath squeezing into a tiny David costume and trying to fool everyone on the battlefield at Elah that he’s the Chosen One.
But it’s not an open and shut case.
From the perspective of a reader and a writer, I simply do not understand this, and I want books, knowledge and culture to be readily available to as many people as possible. I suspect much of the outrage is faux. Perhaps if Waterstones were cannibalising the audience and market share of an already-existing indie bookshop in the highstreet I could understand it, but Waterstones has not done this. They’ve brought books (or brought books back) in some cases, to UK highstreets. Not a bookies, which seem to litter every high street the length and breadth of the land, but books. How can this be in any way criticised?
In fact, if you’re listening, Waterstones, is there any chance you would be able to open a store in Wickford, Essex? Such a move would be like manna from heaven for a reader in this town. I will be there, first in line, to welcome you.
I can’t think of a single way in which this is damaging. It exposes the good folks of the aforementioned towns to books. That’s a good thing. It adds further evidence that, contrary to previous received wisdom, that the paper book isn’t quite as dead at the feet of its digital offspring as everyone had thought. That’s another good thing. And it adds a cultural focal point for a local community. Why are any of these things bad?
It’s not fashionable to champion large companies, but really, compared with Amazon, its Waterstones who are the David, not the Goliath, and I for one think they ought to be applauded.