Waterstones Are Making a Comeback Thanks to Waterstones Chief Executive James Daunt

There has been a decline in recent years of paperback and hardback books sales with the coming of the digital revolution, Amazon, and the credit crunch that all seemed to add up to the literary apocalypse.

James Daunt is a bookseller with a penchant for stories who is also an inveterate risk taker. In 2011 he watched a Russian oligarch named Alexander Mamut make an insane bid for commercial suicide. And then he volunteered to join him. Mamut’s crazy venture (“Nobody invests in bookshops to make money,” says Daunt) was his bid for Waterstones, a then ailing chain, burdened with several million pounds of debt. Daunt’s reckless career move was to join Mamut as his CEO, a job widely seen as a poisoned chalice.

Sometimes stories do have a happy endings. And this month, Daunt was able to announce that Waterstones is about to finally break even.

The news that, for the first time in a long time, Waterstones is beginning to show signs of modest growth (new shops; new optimism; new markets) is symbolic of a sea-change in the world of books. Whisper it discreetly, but the book is showing signs of making a modest comeback, with British bookselling exhibiting the symptoms of an unfamiliar, fragile optimism.

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