As Brits treat social distancing as a game, UK’s Waterstones opts to close stores nationwide just days after Daunt asked for books to be given special status

From The New Publishing Standard:

Sometimes it can be embarrassing to be British. First we had Brexit. Then the coronavirus arrived and our government looked the other way. Now the coronavirus is firmly established in the UK, spiralling out of control, and the Prime Minister is sending out mixed messages about social distancing, one second telling everyone it’s fine to go out to the park, the next telling them he will impose stricter controls if people go out to the park.

Against such a background businesses like Waterstones are forced to juggle the well-being of staff and business against the sad reality that, absent legal enforcement, social distancing and other virus containment measures are next to meaningless.

While the governments of Italy, Spain and France among many have acted swiftly to reduce the social mobility that spreads disease, Boris Johnson has chosen a more populist path, like a weak teacher appealing to a class to behave, knowing full well a handful of selfish pupils will do no such thing so long as they have the option.

As the week ended James Daunt, CEO of Waterstones, the UK’s biggest national bookstore chain, spoke of unprecedented demand for books as the majority of the British public tried to stay at home more, and picked up more books during their occasional forays out.

Daunt went so far as to call on the government to exempt books from the inevitable retail closures that Boris Johnson must, at some stage, when things get so bad it’s too late, impose upon the nation.

. . . .

But just this weekend, as it became apparent a substantial minority of the British public were treating Johnson’s government guidelines as a joke, James Daunt has taken a bold decision to not even bother waiting for Johnson to do the right thing, but to close all the Waterstones stores nationwide.

To help prevent spread of the Coronavirus, and to protect the wellbeing of our customers and staff, sadly Waterstones will temporarily close its doors by the close of trade Monday 23 March until further notice.

It gives consumers one full shopping day to make their final book purchases before Waterstones shuts shop for the foreseeable future, because neither the Prime Minister nor certain of the British public can be relied upon to do the right thing.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

9 thoughts on “As Brits treat social distancing as a game, UK’s Waterstones opts to close stores nationwide just days after Daunt asked for books to be given special status”

  1. Uh, last I heard, neither Italy nor Spain were particularly prompt to move to social distancing, travel restructions, or curfews. And the populace didn’t take them too seriously early on. Italy it’s somewhat understandable that they’d be reluctant to limit travel from China since they signed up to belt and road and are beholden to them, but they were really late there.

    UK is a bit behind the curve but until this week they didn’t have the kind of spread as on tbe continent. Still don’t. Not for their population base. They’re about a third of France or Germany.
    But Waterstones pretending books are special was never going to cut it.
    They should’ve known that from the start.

    All they achieved is confirm they really believe their PR hooey.

    • Smart retailers adapt rather than complain. Here in CA we are “locked down”, but we can still go to many establishments that offer items on a take-out basis. You can still get a bottle of gin – you just have to wait at the door while the clerk goes and fetches it. You can still get tacos – you just can’t sit down and eat them. In some places you can still get paper books – you just can’t go into the store and browse. Waterstones could do that. B&N could do that. After all, they’re already skeleton-staffed as it is. Instead, they’re laying off employees who will straight-away pursue other work (if they can find it,) removing every shred of institutional memory that might be left, and as good as hanging a sign in the window that says “go shop somewhere else.” I feel sorry for gig workers and dine-in restaurants, but not these guys.

      • Some independent bookstores work off their own stock on their own.
        Not even relying (solely) on Amazon merchant services. They stand a chance of surviving.
        The ones not doing online at all and counting on being “community centers” are less likely.

        • It doesn’t even have to be online. Customers can call the bookstore and ask for a specific book (which might be in stock) or a recommendation (more like to be in stock), drive over and have it delivered curbside with payment in cash or portable CC reader. That is going on in many urban centers. B&N could do it and get even more press. It’s just a total lack of imagination and initiative.

  2. Masks are special.
    Drugs are special.
    Respirators are special.
    Sanitizers are special.
    Books aren’t special.

  3. Spain has been on lock down for more than a week now, Italy for longer. We should have learned the hard lesson from them, as they warned us that they hadn’t done it soon enough – but we didn’t. Even as I write this, we are now in lockdown. Thank God for that. Johnson is a man who thought that the birthday present of his life had come, only to open it and find that it contained a large cup of poison although at last, he has risen to the occasion. Last weekend – first real spell of fine spring weather – hoards of fools headed for the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and other rural places, many in campervans, stripping small shops of essential supplies along the way. Our health provision in these places is very good indeed – but this is a network of small and widespread communities, with an influx of summer visitors over a limited period, and all provision is carefully balanced to take account of that. People ‘fleeing’ to our rural places in droves (have they been watching too many apocalyptic dramas on TV?) could only do harm to themselves and the people for whom this is home. Stopped now, officially. Waterstones haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory either. The government is, however, paying 80% wages. Getting something right in a very difficult situation.

    • My impression, Catherine is that the government has been following the expert advice they’ve been receiving (as one would hope if not necessarily expect), though this advice may not always have been correct (in particular since they’ve been open by publishing it many have said that testing has been much under emphasised).

      And yes, people have been idiots – or at least taken the view, in many cases not totally unreasonably, that they are not at much risk if they catch COVID-19 and rather selfishly that they are not too concerned about the risk of passing it onto high risk individuals like my wife and me.

      However, we are safely ensconced at home, Sue next door has offered to do any shopping we need and collect our prescriptions, the sun is shining so we can do the gardening and chat to the neighbours over the hedges whilst still self isolating and Amazon continues to add e-books to our TBR piles. Best of all after a couple of hours struggle yesterday morning and again today I’ve persuaded Sainsbury’s checkout system to accept my on-line grocery order for delivery tomorrow.

      Also we now have time to catch up with the last series of Doctor Who which I have recorded, though I am missing the cricket that would have been on TV.

      • It is my understanding that the latest series torpedoes decades of accepted lore.
        Acceptance has been limited.
        Ratings have gone down significantly and it has been suggested the showrunner has painted the show into a corner. Be warned.

        Me, I gave up three actors ago.
        I really wish they’d kept Eccleston.

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