In one sense, as a consumer, I've been boycotting Waterstone's for years. This has been less to do with the chain's policies than for fear of being kneecapped by my otherwise pacifistic friends at The Bookcase in Lowdham or Housmans in London. But now I have a moral dilemma since the Stop the War Campaign has called for people to boycott Waterstone's since they decided to host a signing by Tony Blair. I'm no fan of Blair and would not want to read his tawdry book but as I already boycott Waterstone's as a consumer I can't do more. What about as a supplier though? Surely a boycott calls for customers and suppliers to boycott the chain? Well, last month Waterstone's sold about 20% of Five Leaves' trade books, and they have just ordered 273 copies of one of our advance titles. Some months they have sold 40% of my trade books. This means any principled boycott would put Five Leaves out of business and my action would be as a gnat's bite to an elephant in the way it would affect Waterstone's. But wait, assuming the Stop the War Campaign actually mean a boycott rather than, say, not buying a book in Waterstone's next Tuesday between 10.15am and 10.30am they should be calling for Verso, Lawrence and Wishart and the other radical publishers to boycott Waterstone's. Hey, great, three months and most radical publishers will close down. Result! And Bookmarks? The publishing wing of the Socialist Workers Party - will they now say their books are no longer available through Waterstone's? Let's move on to the authors... just suppose John Berger, Noam Chomsky, Michael Rosen, Jeremy Hardy and every comedian called Mark (to name a few radical writers) said they wanted to boycott Waterstone's... well, sorry guys, since in most places Waterstone's is the only shop you can buy their books, no radical writer need bother trying to be published again.
Nope. This is not a boycott that will work, has a future, or will be followed. But it does look radical on the leaflet, and grabs a headline. And if it did catch on... will Stop the War Campaign encourage people to shop at the anti-union Amazon or that hotbed of left wing bookselling, WH Smith?
ps. Immediately after writing this I read on line that Tony Blair has cancelled his signing at Waterstone's. I will resume not shopping at Waterstone's, but now with a clear conscience.