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The BBC's Brian Milliigan
"Eight years ago, the internet didn't exist, and that has been the ultimate challenge in the book retail industry"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 21 February, 2001, 17:10 GMT
Waterstone heads back to books
Waterstone book store
The Waterstone name remains but success has evaporated
By the BBC's Brian Milligan

Tim Waterstone, the man credited for transforming the fortunes of the British book market, opened his first shop in 1981.

Waterstone's now has more than 200 branches.

But after the chain was sold, first to WH Smith and then to HMV Media, success evaporated.

Waterstone's bookshop transformed the book selling industry
Waterstone's mission was to create beautiful places to shop in
Staff morale was said to be poor, small publishers complained about being squeezed off the shelves, and profits fell dramatically.

The BBC has learnt that Mr Waterstone is about to make an offer to buy back the chain, pleasing many fans of his business flair who welcome his return.

"I think Tim Waterstone had a vision," says Gery Pulsifer from Arcadia Books.

"He wanted to create, initially one shop and then a chain of shops where the customer really wanted to go in and buy books."

"The whole overall experience of going into Waterstone's was a fun one for the customer."

Although the Waterstone name still remains over the doorway, the eight years without him at the helm has changed the business drastically.

Eight years ago, the internet didn't exist, and that has been the ultimate challenge in the book retail industry.

More competitors

When Mr Waterstone opened his first shop he said his mission was to create beautiful places to shop in.

But if he does succeed in getting Waterstone's back, he'll find many more competitors on the high street.

"We've got chains like Ottakars and Hammicks which have both grown in recent years, and a rather resurgent WHSmith," explains Fred Trewman from Publishing News.

"All in all the book market is a pretty tough place to live in."

HMV Media says it has not yet received an offer from Mr Waterstone. Others are sceptical that a deal is close.

But it is an open secret that the recent performance of Waterstone's has made it a much more affordable purchase for its former owner.

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