News that value book chain The Works has gone under should come as no surprise to anyone who’s shopped at a Tesco Extra lately.

Take a break from the distress purchasing that is acquiring food and head towards general merchandise and suddenly you are in a world of books.

Well, not exactly a world, but at least a couple of aisles of magazines, pulp fiction and sundry hardbacks – all sold on price. And the point is that price is what sells at this end of the market – and in the mid-market come to that – so if it’s value you’re after, in the form of multi-buys, then this may be the place for you.

Tesco has managed, as it has done in so many other sectors, to come from almost nowhere to occupy a slot in the bookselling market. For any other retailer, but particularly for those in the lower echelons, this is bad news. As usual, a no-frills approach has been adopted; you could put tins of beans or “foods of the world” (as found elsewhere in big Tesco stores) in place of the books and almost nothing would have to be rearranged.

There is nothing in Tesco that’s very different from what a retailer like The Works does, but the bigger retailer does have many more people making their way through its stores every day. The chances are good, therefore, that if they have even the smallest amount of reflective time on their hands, they might consider buying a book.

The Works was actually not a bad chain, if you like your books sold from slatwalls and can put up with not having the very latest book releases. But it failed to provide an answer to the question of why you might go there in preference to anywhere else.

The problem that always dogs value players is that if they strip out any form of real in-store differentiation, as soon as a major supermarket moves into the area sheer footfall alone is going to spell doom for them and success for the supermarket. The available book-buying cake is finite and if a new player arrives on the scene, something has to give.

Book retailers at the lower end of the spectrum are going to have to think hard about what to do next, because just being cheap is no longer enough. In-store experience and cheap may sound antithetical, but just take a look at how successful Primark has been and then think bookselling. There is much to be done.

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