In May this year, in a desperate bid to bail water out of a sinking ship, HMV group sold off the Waterstones chain of bookstores.

I'm fond of reading so naturally I visit Waterstones from time to time. (but not exclusively.) For many years, their promotions were unanimously structured as "3 for 2" offers: find three books in the promotion, in-store, and get the cheapest of the three for free. I hated these promotions. I always found it very challenging to find three books in the promotion that I wanted. If I was visiting to buy a specific book and found it in the promotion, on more than one occasion I left the shop empty handed: I wasn't prepared to pay full price for a book in a promotion and not get the benefit of the promotion.

Since being sold, Waterstones seem to have made a lot of changes. Many new hardbacks from popular authors have debuted at a discount for a short period (Rowling, Pratchett). I've found many more discounted books not tied to others in 3-for-2-style offers, sometimes window-display stock at half price, a month or so after release. They started a loyalty-card scheme, with a £10 gift card the prize you reach once you've spent £100. (I wonder if such schemes are examples of a token economy?)

Finally, they've tentatively started to explore putting cafes in their branches. The one in Newcastle is best described as 'fledgling', but it's nice to have one more place to escape for a cup of tea at lunchtimes. The cafe, as well as a very well stocked collection of magazines, were the two killer features of the sadly- defunct Borders bookseller chain. For years before we got our own Borders in the North East, I used to enjoy the York branch if I was passing.

I actually managed to fill a loyalty card this year, so clearly their change in attitude has worked on me! I'm generally not a fan of gift cards, especially in today's climate, so I quickly spent it. I hold an American Express credit card, which earns me cashbask on purchases which I make with it. I think the rate is about 1%. However, I can opt to receive the cashback in the form of gift vouchers. If I do so, I get them to the value of 110% my cashback balance. One of the retailers in on the scheme are Waterstones. I'm tempted…