Let's be clear about this. This is the very same site that in 1871 saw the first-ever international match, between Scotland and England, and was officially not available for building development at all. It's the same hallowed ground that's been allowed to fall into such disrepair by its less-than-competent owners that it desperately needs to sell land in order to stay alive. And it's the same land that, despite the connivance of the local council, still hasn't yet seen one single shop built. But it's amazing what you can achieve with friends in the right places.
Anyway, the fuss began when James Daunt, Managing Director of Waterstones Books, announced plans to open a 'quasi-independent' branch in one of these non-shops under the cloak of "The Stockbridge Bookshop". Daunt said it would be 'a tad smaller' than its biggest Edinburgh branch in Princes Street. Still pretty big, then.
That evoked an understandably furious response from Stockbridge's one existing independent, Golden Hare Books, who claimed that Daunt was cheating on a promise not to open bookstores in competition with little independents. In turn, Lighthouse – Edinburgh's self-styled left-wing bookshop on the Southside – issued a predictable rallying call for Edinburgh's citizens to overthrow the Darth Vader of the book world. Arise, ye starving reading classes.
Personally I struggled see what the fuss was all about. Waterstone's has no means of filling the shelves of its branches – 'independent' or otherwise – except through its Hub and central suppliers. You're a small publisher and want to sell your books in a few selected local Waterstones branches? Whistle. Waterstone's so-called independents will just be selling the same best-sellers as all the other Waterstones.
Along the road (genuinely) in Stockbridge are two real powerhouse charity shops that sell books. They have nothing to fear from a Waterstones, to be honest, and in any slugfest, they'll crush Daunt's newcomer.
And here's a strange thing. When that little independent bookshop The Golden Hare opened five or six years ago, there actually was a Waterstones branch almost exactly the same distance away – in the other direction, in George Street. The little bookshop wasn't bothered then. Independents like The Golden Hare, Lighthouse and the excellent Edinburgh Bookshop prosper because locals support them through thick and thin. The Edinburgh Blackwell's brilliantly balances that independent feel with the buying power of a UK chain by focusing on niche markets, such as academic and Scottish-interest work that Waterstones has no idea how to market.
So what we have is a number of parallel markets, each being served by different types of bookstore: tiny independent, charity and second-hand, niche, and megastore. I reckon this new bookstore will only be a threat to other Waterstones, at least once everyone's initial curiosity has settled down. Meanwhile, all the other booksellers have garnered some free publicity by kicking up a storm about it.
Whatever, this morning it seems that Golden Hare is claiming victory: the new shop is now to be branded as a Waterstones after all, not as an 'independent'. Well done them.
Would somebody like to explain to me how that makes a blind bit of difference?