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Tim Waterstone: 'If reading is going be all digital analytics in 50 years, so be it' - Thirty years ago, Tim Waterstone founded one of the UK's best-known booksellers, and is still in love with the idea of bookshops. So what is he doing starting a new ebooks venture?
"Anyone who tells you they know the future is telling you the most grotesque lie" … Tim Waterstone
Tim Waterstone's house in Holland Park, west London, sits on the edge of a small cluster of book-industry landmarks. Round the corner is the HQ of Granta, the publisher and literary quarterly. Just as close is a sumptuous branch of Daunt Books, the six-shop bookselling company owned by James Daunt, now also managing director of the chain Waterstone founded in 1982, these days owned by the Russian tycoon Alexander Mamut. The nearest Waterstones is a 10-minute walk away in Notting Hill, an outlet its former owner would occasionally visit when it was managed by HMV – and, as he saw it, going to the dogs, at speed.
In an imaginary movie of his life, you can picture the scene: the principal character stealing a look at his life's work and wondering what on earth had happened. "What I hated, to the point that I couldn't sleep at night, was that I thought it was being badly run, and going backwards," he tells me, while shooing off one of his cats. "It was just agony to me. I felt HMV were screwing it up, and I couldn't stand it. Every time I walked to the tube station, past that shop, I could hardly bear to look in the window." He felt it had drifted too far from the simple business of selling books.
Waterstone – a calm, candid presence, some distance from anyone's idea of a big retail player – will soon turn 74. After three unsuccessful attempts to buy back the chain that bears his name, he assisted in its latest change of hands, and though his involvement now extends to little more than the occasional lunch, he says he is confident that it's back "in proper ownership, with a very, very good business plan".
Mamut, with whom he has worked on a bookselling venture in Moscow, is "a very cultured, literary figure. Most unusually for a Russian oligarch, I must say." He laughs. "But genuinely so." Waterstone can now concentrate on his fiction writing: two short novels are on the way, following four already published. (Of these, In for a Penny, In for a Pound, which drew on his experiences in the corporate world, got the most attention.) Then there is his life as a venture capitalist, which has led him to invest in wholefood shops, magazine publishing and cosmetics.
He is also about to return to bookselling as non-executive chairman of a new venture called Read Petite. This will be launched to the trade at next week's London Book Fair, and to the public in the autumn. An online outlet for short-form ebooks (fiction and non-fiction), its users will pay a monthly subscription – "a few pounds" – and have unlimited access to texts of around 9,000 words or under.
But this is no literary Spotify, offering hundreds of thousands of items with little quality control: Waterstone is insistent the service will be "curated" to ensure a high standard. Authors will have appeared in traditional print, and have been brought to Read Petite by a publisher. "The individual short story, or whatever it is, may not have been published, but the author will be an established, published writer," he says, drumming his fingers on the table to emphasis those last three words. "The whole point is to avoid a slush-pile of material. What we'll guarantee is quality writing."
Read Petite's name was inspired by Reet Petite, Jackie Wilson's 1957 rhythm and blues classic. One of its key players, former Bookseller editor Neill Denny, has come along to further explain what it is all about. The pair are particularly excited about the chance to serialize new fiction à la Charles Dickens, reintroducing readers to the long-forgotten art of the cliffhanger. They enthuse about how e-readers seem to have increased people's appetite for short-form writing. In the US, the New York Times has reported on a resurgence of the short story, benefiting new and established writers. We talk about such short-story masters as Somerset Maugham, Stephen King and Annie Proulx, and why the publishing industry has never quite managed to market the form.
"A lot of the best short fiction has never been properly exposed, because publishers don't find it commercially comfortable," says Waterstone. His bookselling business did have success with Graham Greene's short stories, but such successes were rare. "Even with a collection, how do you package it? It's difficult in print: traditionally, money was used up on production and distribution, and not enough was left for promotion. In the digital analytics world, production costs are virtually nil, and distribution costs don't exist, so you're left with a much cleaner sheet."
They plan to publish journalism, too. By the sound of it, they have not quite firmed up how deals with writers will work, but as Waterstone puts it, "if the site works, if the total subscriptions are high enough, it should leave a decent sum". Time, then, for a rude question. How much is Waterstone in for?
"That's too rude for me to answer," he says, smiling.
It comes as no great surprise that Waterstone owns a Kindle. The last book he read on it, recently, was David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. When he first used one, though, he felt a sharp pang of fear. "I think I went through a crisis: [was it] the end of Waterstone's, and the end of the book trade? I was incredibly depressed. I pretended I wasn't, but inside I was churning: 'Maybe I should die now.'" He laughs.
He now thinks that, for the time being, ebooks and print can coexist. Nonetheless, the high streets on which so many shops still bear his name are in unprecedented crisis. For the moment, Waterstones (it lost its apostrophe in 2012, apparently to make online business easier) may be safe, but plenty of equally renowned names have gone under, and the future of the town and city center is clouded in doubt.
Talking about this, Waterstone sounds by turn ambivalent, uneasy and open about the idea that no one knows where things are headed – but also somewhat optimistic. Town-center rents, he explains, are finally coming down. His own chain is getting back to the idea that the shops "should be a theater. It should be a lovely place to be on a Sunday afternoon. The physical browsing process is enormously pleasant. It's an important part of our national culture, those bookshops."
A pause. "But the arithmetic does get more and more difficult, and online retailing gets more and more seductive. And all of us get more and more used to it, from grocery supply to buying books off Amazon. Yet I go to the Westfield shopping center down the road, and it's turned out to be an absolute goldmine, heaving with people all year round. Anyone who tells you they know the future is telling you the most grotesque lie, because none of us do."
Among the high street's casualties, of course, is HMV, which bought Waterstone's from WH Smith (who had acquired it in 1993), at the end of the 1990s. Waterstone himself was HMV's chairman from then until 2001, and it was during that period that his nightmare began. So how did he feel watching HMV go under?
"I brought Waterstone's into HMV in 1998," he reminds me. "HMV stores at that time were extraordinarily successful, and very well run. I used them a lot: I thought they were a tremendous public service. I think some terrible decisions were made by the HMV management in the following decade. They blinded themselves to what was happening. Too slow to react, too slow to face the truth. The issue of downloading – they were always reactive rather than proactive in trying to find a way through. They should have led. I'm sad, really sad, as a consumer. But I've got children of 18 and 19, and they've got no interest in HMV whatsoever. All their music is downloaded. The switch has been so precipitate in that market."
Bookselling remains more balanced. Amazon – about which Waterstone has mixed opinions, recognizing their role in growing UK book sales, but decrying their "absolutely outrageous" tax manoeuvring – claims to be selling more ebooks than printed titles. As a whole, though, the market is still dominated by print: at the last count, ebooks made up 9% of the total. While the number of e-reader users grew by 150% through 2012, that rate of growth is predicted to slow. In other words, the digital analytics reading revolution goes on – but more gradually than you might imagine.
"Robert McCrum, former literary editor of the Observer, rang me about a year ago," Waterstone recalls. "He said, 'Tim, I'm doing yet another piece on "Whither the book?" For God's sake give me something new.' I said, 'I've done this so often.' He said, 'Well, have a go.' While I was talking, I walked to the other side of the house, where my daughter's bedroom is. She's 19, at Oxford, reading English. I walked in, and I could hardly move for books. And she couldn't be more technically savvy … so I rang her and asked, 'Why have you got so many physical books?' She said, 'I like having a Biro in my hand, scribbling notes down the side.' So I see the two forms sitting side by side."
But what if people only have a finite book budget? If they spend x pounds on ebooks, won't that mean x pounds not spent at a traditional shop? And in that sense, might even new ventures such as his contribute to the eventual demise of a lot of what he holds dear?
"That's behaviorally too complex a question, because none of us really know what happens," reckons Waterstone. "I am certain that if more people acquire the habit of reading, the more they'll stick with it and the more they'll read. And if that's going be entirely digital analytics in 50 years time, so be it.
"They'll be reading," he says, glancing at two shelves of novels behind him. "And that's a great thing."
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Contrary to American sitcoms, work life balance isn’t about sitting in coffee shops contemplating life and complaining about work. However, there are plenty of jobs where you can work from or in a coffee shop. The rise of virtual, remote, and contractual roles has contributed to the demand for work life balance. But, sometimes, in our tech-led world, where business can follow us anywhere, the balance becomes more about setting boundaries. It’s about putting down our mobile phones, closing our laptops, and dipping our toes into other waters. Where Does Your Country Fit on the Work-Life Balance Scale? European countries have been leading the way with work-life balance for some time, with the Netherlands topping the list at number one. With the UK sitting at number 29 out of the 38 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), what’s tipping the scales? 13% of British employees work 50 or more hours per week versus 0.5% of people in the Netherlands work those long hours. The average Brit is therefore only setting aside 14.9 hours for leisure and personal care (including eating and sleeping) a day versus those in the Netherlands who dedicate 15.9 hours. Countries in the Nordics work a maximum of 48-hours per week. However, the reality is significantly lower, with the Finnish working an average of 36.2 hours a week, the Swedes 35.9 hours, Norwegians at 34 hours, and the Danes just 32 hours.Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland have become renowned for fostering optimal work-life balance. But, though the Netherlands sits at the number one spot on the OECD, the Danes top the list as the happiest in the world. The Danish welfare model, characterised by quality of life and a good work-life balance offers: Flexible working conditions and social support networks, including maternity leave and childcare facilities. A high degree of flexibility at work – often including adaptable start times and the ability to work from home. Lunch breaks are often at a designated time each day, enabling colleagues to interact, eat together, and get away from their desks. There is a minimum 5 weeks’ paid holiday for all wage earners. The Danish welfare society is characterised by quality of life and a good work-life balance. Work-life balance for the Danes is a healthy balance of priorities. As important as career and ambition is, are is just as important to balance life outside work (pleasure, leisure, family, and health). This understanding of balance not only puts Denmark at the top of the international equality table, it also contributes to a generally high standard of living. Further research shows 33% of working American adults work over the weekend and on holidays. This, in turn, has led 66% to say they don’t feel they have a good work-life balance. One of the main drivers contributing to the need to always be “on” and available is 24/7 technology. For example, if an employer emails, texts, or rings an employee at dinnertime, the employee often feels compelled to answer straightaway. While 57% of those surveyed feel technology has ruined the family dinner, 40% believe it is okay to answer an urgent call or email at the dinner table. So, it comes back to boundaries and not feeling guilty about ‘switching off’ for a few hours or a few days to ‘recharge’. What Companies are Doing to Improve Work-Life Balance Nordic businesses remain at the top of the list for best work-life balance. Though much of it is dictated by strict Nordic Labour laws, companies outside the Nordics are beginning to take pages from their playbook. At a business in Helsinki, Finland, employees are encouraged to go home on time at the end of their day. Often this falls around 5:00pm, though leaving earlier to say, go to a child’s sports activity, is always a guilt-free option. Like many European businesses, employees also receive five weeks of paid vacation each year. Everyone gets stock options and teams are small with the ability to make autonomous decisions. The theory: this team is closest to the project, they know what is best for it. No management approval required, but only to help share in lessons learned. Many Nordic businesses have shortened hours and a focus on family. By putting family first, businesses report improved productivity and innovation, less absenteeism, and reductions in staff turnover. Other benefits can include: Ability to leave work 30-minutes early to pick up kids from school or take them to sports practice Ability to use sick days to take care of sick children Businesses regularly offer gym memberships, event discounts, leadership classes, and team-building exercises as well as opportunities for employees to take courses and further their education. At one business, in Sweden, for example, employees have access to a leisure centre and recreational activities such as fishing, tennis, and swimming. Though everyone has their own definition of what work-life balance means to them, it can be difficult to follow without government mandates, like in some European countries, or if you’re a small business. Our UK and Europe Salary Guide showed that, with over 98% of respondents working full time, at least some flexibility is now expected. We found that 53% of respondents work at home at least one day a week, and 56% have flexible working hours, highlighting that these ‘benefits’ are now becoming the norm. Harnham Life As a business, we try to both reflect, and the lead the way with, developments that we see across the Data & Analytics industry. From ensuring our consultants leave on time two days per week to participate in pursuits outside work, to offering one fully-paid Charity Day per year, we place emphasis on creating an environment where our teams feel like they have a good work-life balance. By building a culture where a consultant can set up a book club or arrange a night out on the town, we have formed a business where employee welfare is prioritised. Though everyone has their own definition of what work-life balance means to them, it can be difficult to follow without government mandates like in some European countries or if you’re a small business. The important thing is to do what’s right for you and sometimes turn off your phone, close your laptop, and meet up with some family or friends in that coffee shop. Whether you’re looking for a permanent position with more benefits, or the freedom of a contract role, we’re here to help with your job search.
15. August 2018
Sharing and collecting data is part of our everyday lives. Whether our information is shared over social media, e-commerce sites, banks, or elsewhere, this can open up risks. 2017 saw the highest number of identity fraud cases ever, an increase in young people ‘money muling’ and higher bank account takeovers for over-60s. Whilst overall fraud incidences fell 6%, these cases highlight just some of the changing trends as fraud issues stem more from misuse than ever before. Dixons Carphone, Facebook and Ticketmaster are just three cases you may recognise from a string of high profile data breaches this year. Technological advances, more accessible and available data, coupled with an increased sophistication of fraud schemes, makes it more likely that data breaches and fraud attacks will become regular news items. But how is the fraud landscape changing and can technological advances be advantageous in detecting and reducing fraud? Identity fraud increasing for under 21s In June 2018, Dixons Carphone found an attack enabled unauthorised access to personal data from 1.2 million customers. It’s now been uncovered that the number is much higher, closer to ten times initial estimates. Whilst no financial information was directly accessed, personal data such as names, addresses and emails enable fraudsters to fake an identity. Younger fake identities are used more for product and asset purchases which typically require less stringent checks, such as mobile phone contracts and short-term loans. In 2017, Cifas, a non-profit organisation working to reduce and prevent fraud and financial crime, reported the highest number of identity fraud cases ever. Under 21s are most at risk seeing a 30% increase as they engage more with online retail accounts. Whereas previously identity theft would manifest itself in fraudulent card and bank account activity, it’s now being used to make false insurance claims and asset conversion calling for stronger detection in these industries. Young People Used as Money Mules This age group aren’t only being targeted for identity theft; there’s a 27% uplift in young people acting as money mules. ‘Money muling’ is a serious offence that carries a 14-year prison sentence in the UK. In most cases, younger people are recruited with the lure of large cash payments to facilitate movement of funds through their account, taking a cut as they go. In a world where young lives are glamourised and luxurious goods are displayed over social media, this cut can be particularly appealing. Whether aware, believing the reward outweighs the risk, or unaware a money laundering crime is being committed, deeper fraud controls are needed across social media as much as bank accounts. This raises the question as to whether banks should be linking social media to customer details to stop money laundering early on? Increased bank account takeover for over 60s Cifas also reported an increase in account takeovers for over 60s for the same period. Seen by fraudsters as a less tech-savvy and therefore more susceptible demographic, over 60s are increasingly being targeted with online and social engineering scams. The same features which can make some over 60s a target for these scams, can also mean that account takeovers are not immediately noticed and reported, posing yet another difficulty for fraud monitoring and prevention. Vigilance and proactiveness is key. Here are three tips to get you started: Never give personal or security information to someone who contacts you out of the blue, either online, on the phone, or face to face. Always phone and check with the company first. If you make the call then you know you can trust the person on the other end. Check with your bank to see if they offer an elder fraud initiative such as a monitoring service that scans for suspicious activity and alerts customers and their families or educates seniors on types of scams and how to avoid them. When in doubt about something, delay and seek a second opinion. Check with your local library, government offices, or non-profit organisation for more top tips to stay safe from scams and social engineering. Industry approach Traditionally, financial services organisations have been at the forefront of developing fraud controls; they are often the ones most impacted by the financial risk (the monetary cost of the attacks on their business) and regulatory risk (ensuring their business is adhering to regulations and controls). However, with modern day trends and the changing nature of fraud, all industries need to be focused on reputational risks and prevention. Single big events like Facebook and Dixon Carphone’s data breaches can have a far-reaching impact. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Monzo, an online bank, which bills itself as the future of banking has stepped up the game when it comes to their customer’s security. Upon reports of fraudulent activity on customer cards, they took immediate action to correct the problem. Then they took things a step further, introducing digital analytics to help identify trends and patterns. As patterns emerged, Monzo then notified both the breached business and the authorities. Perhaps a cross-industry collaborative approach is needed as, after all, fraudsters are collaborating. By doing so, businesses will become more proactive, rather than reactive, and can put measures in place to stop potential fraud. If you’ve got a nose for numbers and want to help secure the reputation of businesses the world over, we may have a role for you. To learn more, call our UK team at +44 020 8408 6070 or email us at email@example.com
09. August 2018