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Watkins Bookshop: 1897-2010

On the 23rd February it was announced that Watkins Bookshop – London’s oldest esoteric bookshop – went into administration, with 11 members of staff being made redundant. Unless a buyer for the business emerges by 25th March, the business will be liquidated.

Watkins had struggled to keep going for the last few years – yet another example of an independent bookshop hit by the collapse of the Net Book Agreement which allowed supermarkets to take over the bestseller market and demand huge discounts from publishers. Watkins Review editor Stephen Gawtry recently gave a good example of how this affected the shop: 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. Since the withdrawal of the NBA in 1997, over 500 independent bookshops in the UK have closed. The rise of online booksellers such as Amazon also impacted on Waktins’ business, and the current owners had inherited a £500,000 tax bill from the previous administration, which they are said to have struggled to contest for two years with HM Revenue and Customs, but to no avail.

This is a sad day for London’s esoteric community. Watkins will be sorely missed. So, please, where you can – support your local esoteric bookshop!


  1. Marysia
    Posted March 7th 2010 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    It should be against the frickin’ law to underprice goods lower than the wholesale price. Bloody supermarkets.

  2. thomé
    Posted March 7th 2010 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Sad to see Watkins go, both for those who shopped there like me, and even more for the people who worked there.

    It’s easy to blame the supermarkets, but apparently Watkins had plenty of other problems, such as their huge tax debt.

    How come an ultraspecialised bookshop like Watkins has to rely on big bestsellers like The Da Vinci Code anyway? I understand general independents need those, but for a specialist in occult books in a part of the city rife with general bookstores it sounds self-evident they would never be able to make it on the likes of Jamie Oliver…

  3. Simon
    Posted March 10th 2010 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    It’s the same story everywhere. Independent book sellers today have to sell primarily online, store sales being secondary to their income. Stores with an interesting history such as this one should consider trying to find a means of cashing in on that history via tourism (while concentrating actual book sales on online sales), although I would suppose that any such “occult tourism” would require a concerted effort from several establishments of various sorts. Just an idea.

  4. Phil Hine
    Posted March 10th 2010 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    According to The Bookseller a local entrepreneur, Etan Ilfeld, of the gallery Tenderpixel has put in an offer for Watkins. The administrators, Harris Lipman, have not yet (as far as I’m aware) officially confirmed the deal.

  5. Steve13
    Posted March 11th 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    The little place up on St. James Street in Brighton is stopping selling occult books.
    My concern is that thse places are more than bookshops. You can het to meet people face to face in them. Who knew?
    Here’s hoping Atlantis weathers the storm.

  6. Phil Hine
    Posted March 19th 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Good news! Waktins re-opened on the 13th March and will trade five days a week. It will remain as a specialist bookshop. For more details see The Bookseller