Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | February 26, 2010

End of an Era – Watkins Closes

Watkins - London's Oldest Occult Bookshop

I have just heard some sad news  from Stephen Gawtry, editor of The Watkins Review, who has given me permission to quote his mail. This is another example of the way ‘big business’ is trying to destroy uniqueness, idiosyncracy and ultimately culture in the pursuit of the ‘almighty dollar’:

Dear friends and colleagues,
Some of you may have already heard the sad news, but I’m afraid that Watkins Books has gone into administration and the shop closed on Tuesday, February 23rd. Watkins has been struggling for the last few years to keep its head above water. The tide turned with the collapse of the Net Book Agreement and the rise of discounted books. Independent bookshops relied on the bigsellers like Harry Potter or the latest Dan Brown to enable them to survive and stock the classics and slow sellers. Once the Net Book Agreement went, supermarkets were suddenly allowed to sell the bigsellers at heavily discounted prices, literally taking the bread from the mouths of the independents. When “The Da Vinci Code” first came out in paperback, Watkins was buying copies from the wholesaler at around £4.50, while up the road Tescos in Covent Garden was selling it for around £3.50. I heard of one independent bookseller who drove to his supermarket and filled up a trolley with the latest Jamie Oliver book, as it was far cheaper than getting it from his regular supplier. On the last Harry Potter books, supermarkets like Asda were selling them as lost leaders. A vast mountain of brand new £16.99 hardbacks marked down to £4.99 so that every little ‘Potter’ fan would urge their parents to take them there and hopefully buy their weekly shopping at the same time. This is the real crime. These people don’t respect books. To them they are a throw away commodity. What other area of retail gives away the latest brand new products like that? The collapse of the Net Book Agreement has enabled the supermarkets to take the cream of the bestsellers and demand huge discounts from publishers, thereby depriving bookshops of their life-blood. But what happens when there is suddenly nowhere to buy the classics, the text books, the car and computer manuals? Yes, if you know exactly what you want, you can order online. But what if you don’t know? What if you need to look at the book or to browse and see what is right for you? This is the reality. As of 2009, 500 independent bookshops in the UK had closed since the demise of the agreement in the late 90s. That number will vastly increase over the next year. Online sellers like Amazon have compounded the problem and the recent recession has just about brought the high street to its knees. Even specialist shops with loyal customers like Watkins are now struggling to survive. I always thought Watkins would pull through somehow and have not yet given up hope. There are several people interested in buying Watkins and hopefully it will rise again from the ashes and be given a new lease of life. Having worked at Watkins since 1993, I have seen many changes, met many dear friends – authors, publishers, distributors, work colleagues – and of course customers! I would like to thank everyone for their continued support over the years. Like Watkins, long may it continue!
Those of you who have adverts, books or articles in the Spring or Summer issues of the Review, please note that I have every intention of continuing with the Review and will do my best to get future issues out when I can. I will let you know more once I know more myself.
Best wishes,
Stephen Gawtry 
Editor, The Watkins Review

The Bookseller have a included a piece on their website about the closure of Watkins. You can check it out and add your comment here.
There are already several comments in response to the article, so please feel free to add a comment, as I’m sure the Bookseller will make an article about the closure in their next issue.

The Evening Standard on their “This is London” website have also added an article about Watkins. You can check it out and add your comment here.

The Disinformation Company in New York have posted a “Save Watkins” story on their site.


Responses

  1. What a shame. I think the book publishing business will go the same way as the modern music business in the end, and this kind of thing backs that up.

  2. This is so sad. There is nothing quite like the joy of browsing in those kinds of bookshops; of finding stuff that you just can’t get anywhere else. Such experiences are missing in the major book stores such as Waterstones and they are completely absent in a supermarket aisle! There used to be a good few independent book stores in Portsmouth – one really good esoteric book shop that was a real Aladdin’s Cave. They have all gone! I think Damh is right. I was in Waterstones yesterday and I was amazed at how limited the choice is. There is no room for the obscure or unusual. Something precious is being lost – culture is more than a commodity and as Stephen Gawtry says, it is distressing to know that these people care very little about books. It could be jeans or baked beans, as long as it sells. Such a shame. :0(

  3. Having visited Watkins almost every month for the past 30 years I was devastated to hear this tragic news when I went to the shop on Tuesday evening and found it closed, and again on Thursday afternoon just to see if anything had changed. Visiting the shop was always a wonderful experience in so many ways. I feel I have lost a very special place which has played a crucial role in my spiritual journey and contributed so wonderfully to the quality of my life. The staff must be in a very sad place at present and my thoughts and good wishes are with them. I do hope some solution can be found and this gem of London restored.

  4. Ross’s bookshop in Ludlow closed last year. He didnt sell Harry Potter because of Tescos (I havent shopped at Tescos for over 4 years) They sold CDs too, no where else in Ludlow to buy music (apart from the supermarkets I expect) and you could order anything from Ross’s. There are still 2 bookshops in Ludlow thankfully, but one is very small, and the other sells cards and art materials too.
    If it wasnt for the bookshop in Tenbury, I wouldnt have seen John and Caitlin Matthews’ Storyworld. I paid the full price for it, and shall be using it for ordering books in future. SAVE OUR BOOKSHOPS

  5. There is nowhere more soul satisfying than a bookshop. The smell of new books and the quantity of them. mmm…..


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