Q&A: Does Waterstones Franchise in the UK?

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waterstones franchise

As one of the biggest names in the book industry, Waterstones is a common sight on the British high street and has been for over 35 years. The public care about the brand, as they do with other classic high street shops like Boots or WH Smith. Many members of the public have grown up with Waterstones and, before the digital age, it would have been their go-to when wanting to buy a book. For many keen readers, you cant quite beat browsing for a book in a peaceful bookshop and the new book smell that accompanies you as you read.

The brand has had its ups and downs, but today Waterstones stands strong, having bought Foyles in 2018, and employing more than 3,500 booksellers across the UK. This article will consider whether Waterstones franchises in the UK, and then provide current franchising opportunities in the bookshop sector.

What is the history of Waterstones?

Waterstones has been selling the latest bestsellers to the people of Britain since 1982, when it was launched by founder Tim Waterstone. It was highly profitable and quickly expanded to open more stores. In 1993, WH Smith bought the chain for £47 million and, in the five years that followed, the brand grew considerably. In 1998, it was bought by EMI and Advent Capital to become part of the HMV group for £300 million.

In 2011, the bookstore changed ownership again, after being sold to Alexander Mamut, who owned Euroset, the biggest mobile phone company in Russia. By this point, Waterstones was the countrys largest bookshop chain, operating almost 300 stores across the UK.

Does Waterstones franchise in the UK?

Unfortunately, Waterstones does not currently offer any franchising opportunities. However, the brand does try to make an active move away from a corporate business model that lacks originality. Branch managers are afforded a significant amount of independence and autonomy when it comes to running their individual store, taking lead from local influences and trends.

Whilst investors cannot currently start their own Waterstones branch, there are other ways to get involved with the bookstore chain. The main way is to become a Waterstones affiliate, by placing a link to the bookstores website on their own. Any sales that are made via this link earn the affiliate a commission. You can sign up here.

The book industry in the UK

  • While many people assume that the rise in digital technology and the dominance of streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime is resulting in the downfall of the book industry, the reality is that the revenue from publisher book sales has risen to more than £3.5 billion from 2010, when it equalled just over £3 billion (Statista).
  • Of course, there is the concern that the rise of e-readers and audiobooks is having a disastrous impact on traditional books. However, youll be interested to know that while 54 percent of people in Britain have purchased a physical book in the past year, just 24 percent have downloaded a digital book (Mintel).
  • In fact, kindles really took off between 2012 and 2014 but, since then, the trend has slowed significantly. While there will still be a market for e-books, the popularity of physical books will prevail.

James Daunt, the Managing Director of Waterstones, isnt against e-books, and doesnt want to see them consigned to history: We want people to read. We dont mind how they read.

James hints that people who read e-books will still buy physical books sooner or later.


Huge, multinational businesses such as Amazon can pose a real threat to comparatively smaller brands like Waterstones, not to mention independent bookshops. According to The Guardian, the number of independent bookshops has halved since the launch of Amazon in the mid-1990s, to comprise just over 850 in the UK.

Therefore, physical bookstores should ensure that they take sufficient measures to cement their place in the book market. Launching a website is an obvious solution (and a step that Waterstones has already taken), but stores can encourage customers to step over the threshold into the store by holding reading groups, author signings or other events, or even setting up a small caf and offering refreshments.

Ultimately, its important to emphasise what a physical bookstore can offer when an online retailer cant.

Running your own bookstore franchise

While Waterstones doesnt offer franchising opportunities, there are a number of other smaller businesses that are using the model for expansion. Lets explore two in more depth now.

1. Pickled Pepper Books

This vibrant bookshop specialises in books for children and their grown-ups. Pickled Pepper Books creates an interactive experience and aims to bring books to life. This is achieved by its enthusiastic staff and events programme, which includes everything from meeting authors and illustrators to holding childrens birthday parties. These create a unique, friendly experience for both children and adults.

Its come a long way since its launch in 2012, with the development of online sales and its many organised events. But now, its next mission is to expand through franchising.

Pickled Pepper Books is on the lookout for franchisees that are able to deliver an unforgettable, personalised experience to customers. It isnt essential to have previous experience in bookselling, as an initial training package and ongoing support will be provided.

The overall investment will set you back around £60,000. Click here to read more about the opportunity and browse the full franchise brochure.

2. Usborne Books at Home

Another children books company is Usborne Books at Home. Rather than becoming a franchisee with this company, you can become an Independent Usborne Organiser who creates pop-up bookshops at homes, pre-schools, libraries, schools and fairs, as well as online.

A sales background isnt required, only a passion for books. You will be supported every step of the way and have your own mentor to help you build a profitable business in no time. Just some of the perks include bonuses and adventures abroad!

If youre ready to get started, you can email its head office team.

There arent any more UK bookstore franchises. However, there are more opportunities in the franchising capital - the US. If youd consider an international franchise opportunity, you might want to check out Walls of Books.

Waterstones - a resilient British classic

The bookstore industry in the UK is still thriving amidst a world moving in the digital direction. There arent currently many franchise opportunities in the bookstore industry in the UK, but there are other ways to get involved with the brands. Why not consider this a great opportunity to start your own bookstore franchise? Or, if youd rather buy into an existing franchise on our directory, you can browse a full list of our retail store franchises here.

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