Outside of the mass-market, Waterstones has a stranglehold on British high street bookselling.
The Waterstones story is one of successful brand management. The basic concept is to take the appeal of an independent book shop, and monetise it with the professionalism of a large chain.
The chain introduced large American-style bookshops to the UK in the 1990s, in the style of Borders or Barnes & Noble, in locations such as London, Birmingham and Glasgow.
Being owned by WH Smith and subsequently HMV didn’t seem to harm their “independent” image. Neither did buying up their major competitors Dillons and Ottaker’s .
[Waterstones] has expanded rapidly since its launch in the early 1980s by combining the scale of a multiple retailer with the personalised service of a local bookseller.
Source: Financial Times (1997)
It is perennially portrayed in the media as some sort of charitable venture, a relentless underdog. This is characterised by the eccentric founder, Tim Waterstone. He constantly plays the role of scrappy underdog to whichever corporate entity currently owns the chain. As if after selling your company, you still have some sort of innate rights regarding its future.