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What Can Waterstones Learn from Russian Bookselling?

A visit to Moscow’s bookstores can feel like returning to a lost world.

By Edward Nawotka

Waterstones is being transformed, albeit slowly, by its new Russian owner. He installed a new CEO, dropped the apostrophe in the company’s name, and is now opening a Russian mini-store in the company’s flagship London location.

Last year, Philip Downer wrote in our pages about his impression of Moscow’s bookselling scene, which he described as like “returning to a lost world.” He observed:

Whilst bookselling is a global brotherhood (!), in the UK and US there is insufficient kudos given to most retail assistants. In the Moscow stores we visited, I was repeatedly struck by the pride that staff had in their store, in their sections, and in their length of service. Moscow booksellers were committed to selling more of their books, and were keen to discuss new techniques, as well as sharing their own skills.

The range of stock carried in bookshops is broad and eclectic. We found deep ranges of CDs, DVDs and games, of course, but also coins, banknotes and stamps, stationery and desk accessories, jewelry, ornaments and small-scale home décor. There was also a thriving trade in “gift editions” of classics and popular new titles, with intricate leather bindings, selling for around $100.

Of course, there are several complications (read more about these in Publishing Perspectives’ London Book Fair Show Daily on page 15 — download the PDF).

Bookselling is all about creating a a curated experience for the consumer. James Daunt, the Waterstones CEO, is a pro at just this sort of thing. The results of his leadership remains to be fully realized, but it appears to be an exciting time for Britain’s iconic bookseller.

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