Waterstones defends unbranded ‘independent’ stores

The UK's largest book retailer has been accused of masquerading as the 'little guy' on the highstreet.

Waterstones, one of Europe’s largest book retailers, has been accused of subterfuge after it opened three unbranded stores in England.

They are Harpenden Books in Hertfordshire, Southwold Books in Suffolk and The Rye Bookshop in East Sussex.

Critics of the new stores have suggested that Waterstones has opened them under the guise of independent book retailers to avoid being scolded for supposedly adding to the homogenisation of the highstreet.

John Wells, owner of Wells of Southwold, a book, card and gift shop told the Mail on Sunday: “To call themselves Southwold Books is a bit naughty. Locals know what the shop is, but visitors don’t.”

Waterstone’s MD, James Daunt, said that the stores were created brand-free because he wanted the stores to have their own identity.

He said: “The vast majority of people have welcomed them greatly. They are very small shops in towns that had independents and very much wish they still had independents but don’t.

“We can’t open up great big Waterstones here but we can open up small ones. We are coming into quite sensitive high streets with predominantly independent retailers on them and we wish to behave as they do.

“Part of the reason that we do it is to convince our own booksellers that they have the autonomy that they do have.”

Daunt added that he has always acted and worked as an independent book seller and he would love everyone who works for him to do likewise.

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