Over recent months, the decline of the British high street has showed no sign of slowing. And although fashion retail has suffered some major hits, it’s arguably electronic, book and video game stores that have the most to fear from online retailers and supermarket chain contenders, with major names such as Jessops, HMV and Blockbuster falling into administration in 2013 alone.
When it comes to bookshops, the collapse of Borders in 2011 is a stark reminder that it’s not just independent stores that are at risk – but that seemingly well established, international brands are also just as vulnerable. In fact, despite their strong corporate support system, I’d argue that larger chains have their own difficulties in that they may struggle to build a personal connection to their customer base.
One retailer that’s trying to buck the trend is Waterstones. In a bid to boost sales and to challenge the rise of e-readers, this high street heavyweight has recently announced a new initiative that will see it team up with popular authors to offer exclusive bonus content. The business has signed a deal with Chocolat author Joanne Harris for an additional, non-plot essential chapter for her latest novel – Peaches For Monsieur Le Curé – which will be only available in copies purchased from Waterstones.
But as readers, what do we think of this new initiative? On the one hand, I can’t help but feel that authors should want their book to be the best that they possibly can be, regardless of who’s reading it or where they’ve purchased it from. Their reasons for signing up to the scheme may have stemmed from the best of intentions, but at the end of the day some fans are going to miss out, whether that’s through ignorance of the existence of Waterstone’s extra material or for financial reasons.
That said, is the Waterstones scheme really that different to others that have preceded it? The Richard and Judy Book Club for example, which is available exclusively at WH Smith, has long since offered readers additional reading material and discussion points, while many publishers choose to offer a sample chapter of the authors next novel as a teaser. And moving away from books for a second, DVD’s often provide viewers that chance to access deleted scenes or interviews with the cast.
At the end of a day, a business is a business and in these challenging economic times everyone has to think of new and innovative ways to make money and increase their profit margins. With online retailers and larger supermarket chains now able to offer significantly reduced prices, leaving traditional high street stores struggling to compete, the promise of additional material is just one way of helping stores like Waterstones to stand out from the crowd and to offer customers more for their money.
As for me – I’m torn. I can see the advantages of these initiatives from a marketing perspective and in theory I’d love to buy all my books from Waterstones. But in reality I just can’t afford to, especially not with my reading habits! If anyone has any thoughts on this, let me know!