Eason and books

Today’s Sunday Business Post carried an interesting article on Eason; interesting, particularly, from the point of view of anyone with an eye on the Irish publishing industry. In a full-page interview with Conor Whelan, Group CEO, the word ‘books’ was mentioned four times, as follows:

  • ‘You won’t see a recovery in the books, news and magazine market’.
  • ‘Our retail strategy has to seek out all opportunities within our core categories [books, cards, stationery, news and magazines]…’
  • Speaking about the loss of the airport book stores to WH Smith’s, it is noted that Whelan believes ‘that to touch and feel books is important’ but ‘nobody wants to carry books in their luggage any more anyway.’

All of this is important, as Eason is far and away the single biggest player in the Irish book market. Aside from the retail outlets and franchises, of which there are 62 in total, Eason is also the largest wholesaler of books to other bookshops in the country. By far the largest.
But what is slightly worrying is how little they speak about books themselves. Also, the similarity to the experience of Waterstones is hard to ignore. Waterstones appeared to go down a very similar route a number of years ago, with increased centralized buying from head office, less control being left with individual stores to ensure consistent range, and more retail space being given over to ‘non-book products’. This took on the feel of a death spiral, which was only arrested by the arrival of Alexander Mamut as investor and James Daunt as MD.
It is good to see a strong and profitable Eason. Without them, the Irish book market would be dealt a body blow from which it might struggle to recover. They clearly have some excellent people, and they are making good progress financially, as their figures show. And it would be naïve to think that bookshops, even large chains, have it easy, or that they should be purists and not sell mugs or games or whatever helps them stay open.
What would be comforting, though, would be if the largest player in the Irish book market would speak about books just a little bit more.