Goodbye to WHSmith

Too right – the chain has sold games for as long as I remember, from before a heyday of Spectrum and C64 titles and onwards.

It helped solidify games’ legitimacy on the High Street, and its buying decisions kept some of developers in the Britsoft Hall of Fame in business.

And I bet we’ve all heard boastful playground stories of kids in the ‘80s running in to the store and programming the display machines to run swear words across the screen on a loop.

All in all, WHS was once a pretty legendary force in games retail.

So we should be shedding a tear for the demise of what was once a pioneer, right?

Not bloody likely.

It might seem unkind, but it’s true: In a climate where ebooks and other digital content are on the rise, consumer magazines are under more pressure than ever (just look at the ABC results this week – our story is on page 8), and people don’t need notepads they want iPad, WHS is quite the dinosaur.

Half the challenge retailers face every day is staying relevant. An example: This week, pasty emporium Greggs detailed plans to compete with Starbucks and Subway via a rebrand, product review and store fittings overhaul.

In contrast, when its brand is more evocative of Rumbelows and Mister Byrite, rather than GAME or Size, it’s clear WHS didn’t have a chance when it comes to something as cutting edge as games.

Of course, as we said last year when WHS first acknowledged games were on the way out, the chain’s about face doesn’t really hurt the games industry. There are plenty of other retailers looking to keep growing where others have failed to spot an opportunity, and a wave of European publishers are eyeing this country as key to their growth plans.

HMV’s first hybrid superstore that mixes Waterstones, Orange and Paperchase with its staple entertainment lines being just one example. Best Buy are coming, too – and word is that its US parent plans to use the UK market as a test bed for a future strategy that will help evolve the offer in its American stores.

So there’s plenty going on in UK retail when it comes to games – the only shame when it comes to WHSmith is that it couldn’t move quickly enough to take advantage of it.

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