I am not sure whether to laugh or cry. Two of the largest UK bookselling chains are in the news today, and I felt they deserved a quick word of comment.
Waterstone's parent group, HMV, has reported its full-year figures for 2008. Annual revenues for the group rose to almost £2bn – which means, obviously, a lot of DVDs, videogames and movies, and quite a few books too. Profits before tax were about £61m, i.e after giving Caesar what is Caesar's, less than 3% of total turnover. Mmm.
Waterstone's performance was even less impressive: £6m profit on a turnover of £548m (calculator, please! – that's less than 1%). Mmmmmm. A friend of mine, a stock-broker by trade, summed it up thus: "Busy fools." I take his comment was not so much – or not only – addressed to Waterstone's, but to the thousands of publishers, including us, who are oiling this wasteful machine. I am starting to see more and more the benefits of digital publishing...
Which brings me to the other chain, Borders, who announced an interesting diversification of their business, an online dating system called "Happily Ever After". If you are coming cold to this, I swear I am not joking – read the full story (and the comments) here. Another Borders news today is the launch of yet another e-book reader, the ominously named Elonex. I can see it's getting pretty busy in that market – and it looks as though there are going to be as many e-book readers' brands as there are books if we continue at this rate.