In a move somewhat against the mass explosion of online retail shopping and e-commerce stores, Waterstones, a well known European bookstore with 283 bookshops across the UK and northern Europe, announced that it will buy the historic family-owned chain Foyles.
Suggesting that this deal will help to ‘champion’ high street bookshops in the fight against their online rivals, the sale includes Foyles’ flagship Charing Cross Road store, which attracts hundreds of thousands of customers annually.
Founded around the beginning of the 1900s, Foyles was established by the Foyle family and was run for more than half a century by Christina Foyle. Famous for her eccentricities such as sorting books by publisher rather than by genre or author, and often firing staff after exactly one year of service, her leadership style only enhanced the iconic brand that was Foyles.
The original store was often cited as the holy grail for book lovers due to its long history and huge stock – it was once the world’s largest bookshop. Equally, the original Charing Cross Road store was mentioned in a number of works by famous authors, including Ian McEwan, John Le Carre, and Graham Greene, only adding to the literary aura that surrounded it, and drawing more people to the shop.
Bought earlier this year by the activist investment fund Elliot Advisors, this is the first significant move Waterstones has made since this. Elliot Advisors decided to keep James Daunt as the company’s chief executive, mainly due to the continuous growth and profits the chain saw under his watch throughout 2016, a time when many other high street retail-based companies were experiencing sharp falls in profits, especially companies which faced significant online competition.
In a press release, Mr Daunt announced that buying the Foyles chain would leave Waterstones ‘stronger and better positioned to protect and champion the pleasures of real bookshops in the face of Amazon’s siren call’.
However, there is little evidence to suggest that this is a fight that the high street is going to win. With the ease of price comparison online for items such as books, combined with Amazon’s ‘used’ feature which allows its customers to buy second-hand versions of the product for reduced prices, some would question the wisdom of Waterstones’ decision for the long-term success of the company, despite Foyles’ historic reputation.
The details of the sale have not yet been released, but it is estimated to be complete before the end of the year, in time for the Christmas trading period.