I am posting the email below with Mr. Gawtry’s permission. As you read this, keep in mind that Watkins is not a fly by night bookseller, its doors opened in 1894! Some will argue that this is just a change in marketing, but change is not always good; death and disease are manifestations of change. The economic pressures on independent booksellers worldwide are indeed a fatal disease that may soon exterminate these valuable community resources.
I don’t know that the tide can be turned – people are often cheap, and think of nothing but their own gain with no consideration of the long term consequences – but more of us should be aware of what is happening, both in the United States and elsewhere.
The Net Book Agreement was a British regulation that has never existed in the United States, but we are seeing the exact same thing happen here as a very few large corporations increasingly create what is essentially a monopoly in bookselling by driving the small, independent retailers out of business. You may disagree, but it will be a sad day for me when I can only purchase books online or from a box store.
Please support your local bookseller!
From: Stephen Gawtry [mailto:Stephen.Gawtry@ntlworld.com]
Sent: Thursday, February 25, 2010 9:44 AM
Subject: Re: Closure of Watkins
Dear friends and colleagues,
Some of you may have already heard the sad news, but I’m afraid that Watkins Books has gone into administration and the shop closed on Tuesday, February 23rd. Watkins has been struggling for the last few years to keep its head above water. The tide turned with the collapse of the Net Book Agreement and the rise of discounted books. Independent bookshops relied on the bigsellers like Harry Potter or the latest Dan Brown to enable them to survive and stock the classics and slow sellers. Once the Net Book Agreement went, supermarkets were suddenly allowed to sell the bigsellers at heavily discounted prices, literally taking the bread from the mouths of the independents. When “The Da Vinci Code” first came out in paperback, Watkins was buying copies from the wholesaler at around £4.50, while up the road Tescos in Covent Garden was selling it for around £3.50. I heard of one independent bookseller who drove to his supermarket and filled up a trolley with the latest Jamie Oliver book, as it was far cheaper than getting it from his regular supplier. On the last Harry Potter books, supermarkets like Asda were selling them as lost leaders. A vast mountain of brand new £16.99 hardbacks marked down to £4.99 so that every little ‘Potter’ fan would urge their parents to take them there and hopefully buy their weekly shopping at the same time. This is the real crime. These people don’t respect books. To them they are a throw away commodity. What other area of retail gives away the latest brand new products like that? The collapse of the Net Book Agreement has enabled the supermarkets to take the cream of the bestsellers and demand huge discounts from publishers, thereby depriving bookshops of their life-blood. But what happens when there is suddenly nowhere to buy the classics, the text books, the car and computer manuals? Yes, if you know exactly what you want, you can order online. But what if you don’t know? What if you need to look at the book or to browse and see what is right for you? This is the reality. As of 2009, 500 independent bookshops in the UK had closed since the demise of the agreement in the late 90s. That number will vastly increase over the next year. Online sellers like Amazon have compounded the problem and the recent recession has just about brought the high street to its knees. Even specialist shops with loyal customers like Watkins are now struggling to survive. I always thought Watkins would pull through somehow and have not yet given up hope. There are several people interested in buying Watkins and hopefully it will rise again from the ashes and be given a new lease of life. Having worked at Watkins since 1993, I have seen many changes, met many dear friends – authors, publishers, distributors, work colleagues – and of course customers! I would like to thank everyone for their continued support over the years. Like Watkins, long may it continue!
Those of you who have adverts, books or articles in the Spring or Summer issues of the Review, please note that I have every intention of continuing with the Review and will do my best to get future issues out when I can. I will let you know more once I know more myself.
Editor, The Watkins Review