Waterstones profits from return to 'old fashioned book-selling'

Focussing on local communities sees bookseller move into black for first time in seven year

(Image credit: Loop Images/UIG via Getty Images)

A future stock market listing for Waterstones is looking more likely after the bookseller posted its first profit since the financial crash, says The Guardian.

Sales surged more than four per cent to £409m in 2016, generating a pre-tax profit of £9.8m, according to annual results published today. That compares with a loss of £4.5m for 2015.

"The last time the company reported any pre-tax profit was in 2009, when it made £7.9m," chief executive James Daunt told the Daily Telegraph.

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Explaining the change, he said: "We used to be a seller of bestsellers, but now we’re trying to be community bookshops in a more old-fashioned and traditional way."

Daunt told the Guardian that book sales are partly being driven by allowing staff to stock and push titles they believe would work in their local store, as well as helping readers discover new or less promoted authors.

"This has increased its sales of more 'heavyweight' fiction books," says the Telegraph. "The Essex Serpent, a novel by newcomer Sarah Perry, was its best-selling book last year."

Titles aimed at children and teenagers continued a longer-term upward trend, while even sales of adult novels were back on the rise.

At one time it seemed the rise of digital books and Amazon's Kindle would destroy traditional bookshops. However, digital sales are on the wane and Waterstones has stopped stocking e-readers.

"I don’t think readers are going off digital reading. It's being used in a more indulgent way, when travelling, or if you are old and need a big font," Daunt told the Guardian.

"But there are lots of studies which have found that reading a physical book is a very different experience. You remember it much more. It resides with you more than an e-book."

Waterstones was bought for £53m by Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut in 2011. The return to profit has increased speculation he may "cash out within the next few years", most likely through a listing.

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