This ‘fake branding’ story about Waterstones on the BBC website this week captured our attention immediately. There was a definite whiff of the fake farms that Tesco conjured up to sell your sausages last year surrounding the brand’s stores which bear different names, such as ‘Southwold Books’.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, managing director, James Daunt defended the decision, saying that because the stores are so small it would be “rather silly” to brand them as Waterstones as they have a different offering to its regular shops. Yet locally branded independent book shops appeal for the very reason that they are independent, small local businesses by people in the local community. In fact, they are usually inspired by a love of reading, of wanting to share that favoured read of the precise books that you just don’t find in the standard nationwide high street stores.
Questioning the passion for this? Look at the outrage from the public this weekend about the closure of the ‘unique’ and hugely popular independent Samuel French theatre bookshop in Fitzrovia, set to close after almost 200 years following a major hike in rent.
An established high street brand masquerading as something it clearly isn’t could be said to be inherently misleading whichever way you look at it – from a branding perspective, a business perspective and even a moral one.
But is what they’ve done really a crime worthy of gracing the pages of one of the novels that they sell? Independent book sellers don’t seem to think so if Monday’s article in The Guardian is anything to go by. On the contrary, they seemed to welcome any moves to bring more books to the High Street.
Whatever your thoughts, the story does give an incredible insight into the power of branding. These ‘more independent-feel’ Waterstone book shops do look appealing. They are just the type of shop we’d find ourselves wanting to lose ourselves in for a couple of hours to explore the shelves and find the quirky book no one else has discovered yet. We can’t say the Waterstones brand inspires the same feeling or urge to enter the door – so it could be argued that Waterstones have simply had to nounce to diversify to meet the changing needs of the market…albeit if they have donned a cloak and dagger to do so?
New chapter or crime story? We’d love to hear your views on this.
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