Monday, December 25, 2006
This time last year Ottakar's was the second largest chain of specialist booksellers in Britain. Today it no longer exists. The shops have all been absorbed into Waterstone's and the once familiar green and orange livery has been painted over with black.
Like most Ottakar's employees I have tried to be realistic about the change of ownership. High street sales have been declining for several years and there is probably only room for one bookselling chain, but why did it have to be Waterstone's? Were they better than Ottakar's? On the face of it the answer is no, but we were the first to go because smaller ships sink more quickly than large ones.
I feel very sad about the whole business. Ottakar's was a wonderful company to work for and it was run by booksellers. Waterstone's is largely run by retailers who like to talk about 'product' . It is not the evil empire that some would claim, but like most large companies it is soulless and is driven by procedure rather than passion. At Ottakar's any problem could be resolved swiftly with a one-minute phone call. At Waterstone's it's difficult to find the number.
There has been a lot of talk about the 'new Waterstone's' - combining the best of both companies - and it was initially hoped that the input of Ottakar's head office personnel would herald a new era in the company. At the moment the jury is still out. There are good people in Waterstone's and it still offers more hope for bookselling in Britain than any other chain, but at the moment the company still has a long way to go before it can inspire passion and loyalty.