Waterstones founder feels no guilt over indie bookstore closures

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Sir Tim Waterstone feels no guilt over the closure of independent bookstores after Waterstones' aggressive expansion
Sir Timothy Waterstone feels no guilt over the closure of independent bookshops after Waterstones' aggressive expansion. (Image: Shutterstock)
// Sir Tim Waterstone says he doesn’t feel guilty about the closure of independent bookstores
// Waterstone founded the Waterstones book retail chain in 1982
// He has not had any involvement in Waterstones since 2001

The founder of Waterstones has said he feels no guilt over the closure of independent bookshops in the wake of his chain’s aggressive expansion.

Sir Tim Waterstone, who founded the books retailer in 1982, told the BBC’s Desert Island Discs that the smaller rivals “had a shot”.

“I didn’t feel guilty,” he said.

“I’d just have to say no, they had a shot.

“You know the sort of things people used to say to me about me personally – that I was personally responsible for closing down far too many independent bookshops – but the truth is Waterstones, when it started, was the smallest independent bookseller you could possibly imagine: £6000 from me and a lot of debt. I mean, we had nothing.

“But what we did have was self-confidence and a very clear offer, and wonderful staff and a wonderful business model.

“And we weren’t sympathetic, quite honestly.”

Waterstone, who no longer has a stake or role in the eponymous bookstore chain, added that Waterstones had initially gained success in part due to late opening hours, even opening on Sundays when the practice was still illegal.

He also revealed that the sale of the retailer to WHSmith in 1993 was “painful”.

“On the other hand, I told myself not to feel like that,” he said.

“I was in my young 50s and I thought, ‘to hell with it, there’s other things I can do with my life’. It’s been great.

“And I was convinced by the Smiths letter, which they did absolutely honour, about the staggering amount of investment they would put into it. It felt the right thing to do.”

However, in 1997 Waterstones was sold to HMV Media, which was chaired by Waterstone himself.

He stepped down in 2001.

Sir Tim Waterstone feels no guilt over the closure of independent bookstores after Waterstones' aggressive expansion
Waterstones founder Sir Tim Waterstone says indie bookshops “had a shot” and feels no guilt over their closures. (Image: Shutterstock)

Waterstones was acquired by Russian businessman Alexander Mamut in 2011, in a move which probably saved it from collapse.

In April last year, Elliott Advisors took a majority stake in Waterstones, leaving Mamut with a minority holding.

Several months later, Waterstones acquired rival bookstore Foyles, removing control from the Foyles family for the first time in 115 years.

In June this year, Elliott Advisors also acquired the US’s biggest bookstore chain, Barnes & Noble.

Current chief executive of Waterstones and Daunt Books founder, James Daunt, is set to also become Barnes & Noble chief executive once the deal is complete.

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