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FEATURE28 April 2016

Works of fact and fiction

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Features Impact Leisure & Arts UK

Waterstones’ James Daunt has started to turn around the fortunes of the book retailer. But while he puts internal data to good use, he has yet to be won over by the business case for market research. By Jane Simms

I was really looking forward to meeting James Daunt. I love books, and had lots of questions for the man who has, by all accounts, not only reversed the decline of Waterstones by fighting off competition from Amazon and e-readers, but also got people reading again. “We don’t sell books, we sell reading, ” he said recently – a subtle but important distinction.

So I wanted to talk about that – how he’s done it, who buys most books, what sorts of books generate the highest sales, and how important covers are in prompting purchase. I also wanted to know how he knew the answers – what research and insight informed his understanding of people’s book-buying and reading habits.

But it quickly became clear that Daunt has little time for market research or the companies doing it (“in the book industry, the statistics are imperfect, to say the least”). Rather, he is concerned with communicating one key ...