London bookstore news

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John F
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London bookstore news

Post by John F » Sat Sep 08, 2018 5:35 am

Every time I went to London I'd spend a morning in Foyles, focusing on music and theatre (taking their antique elevator to the top floor), maps and guidebooks, and humor. And I always left with a heavy bag of books. Later, when I heard that the Waterstones branch on Piccadilly had become London's largest bookstore, I'd shop there too; they weren't as good on music and theatre but for books of general interest, they had more stock and were easier to navigate. Now those traveling days are over, and as my New York bookstores have closed one after one, I depend on Barnes & Noble online - better for most books than amazon for various reasons. But I'd rather buy my books in bookstores, if they still existed and I could get to them.

Waterstones buys Foyles to defend bookshops against Amazon
7 September 2018

Waterstones is buying the 115 year-old family-owned chain Foyles, saying the deal will help to "champion" real bookshops in the face of online rivals. The sale includes Foyles' well-known Charing Cross Road store in central London, which was relocated to larger premises in 2014. The larger chain has 283 bookshops across the UK and northern Europe.

Foyles was founded at the turn of the last century by the Foyle family and for more than half a century was run by the famously eccentric Christina Foyle. Her approach included sorting the books by publisher rather than alphabetically, and regularly dismissing staff after a year.

Her nephew, Christopher Foyle, who took over the company from her, welcomed the deal as one that would protect the Foyles brand and personality as it entered a new chapter. "I look forward to witnessing the exciting times ahead for the company founded by my grandfather and his brother 115 years ago," he said.

Foyles has struggled to remain profitable as online booksellers have battered traditional stores. While sales rose last financial year, the company still reported a loss of £88,791.
Foyles original store was something of a mecca for booklovers, drawn by its history and the promise of browsing the vast stock, in what was once the world's largest bookshop. It pops up in numerous literary works, by authors including Graham Greene, John Le Carre and Ian McEwan. And it has boasted a star-studded clientele, including film actor Richard Burton, who once pilfered books from Foyles and was later horrified to discover that his then wife Elizabeth Taylor - taking a leaf out his own book - had stolen a copy of "A Shropshire Lad" by poet Alfred Edward Housman. "It's the first and last thing she ever stole in her life, except, of course, husbands," wrote Burton.

Perversely, it was partly because the shop was so badly run that it seemed to charm its customers. Books were filed with total disregard to logic, and modern technology including automated tills and computers was stubbornly resisted. Customers were obliged to queue three times to purchase a book. But as Agatha Christie wrote in The Clocks, it was as if the books "had run wild and taken possession of their habitat".

Waterstones was bought by activist investment fund Elliot Advisors earlier this year, but the new owners retained James Daunt as chief executive. The chain returned to profit under his watch in 2016, and he said the investment by Elliot would lead to more new store openings because the economic downturn had made empty space available in desirable locations.

Mr Daunt said the acquisition of Foyles would leave the company "stronger and better positioned to protect and champion the pleasures of real bookshops in the face of Amazon's siren call". He said good bookshops were rediscovering their purpose "in the fight-back against online and e-reading".

The transaction - the terms of which were not disclosed - is expected to be completed before the end of the year.
John Francis

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