Today, I read my copy of The Author, which I receive as a member of the Society of Authors. I was fascinated by the debate on HMV, the owner of Waterstone’s, buying out the Ottakar bookchain. The Society of Authors have expressed opposition to the bid because it would mean a monopoly over the bookselling market.
This has been mentioned in previous posts. (See The World of Children’s Publishing and What Does An Editor Do?)
It is argued that this merger is against public interest, as it will reduce the range of books being sold. Specialist books will not get the publicity or shelf space they have previously had. This is why educational publishers tend to sell direct to schools rather than in bookshops.
One thing is clear the retailing of books has changed dramatically over the past few years. Supermarkets, such as Tesco, can sell books at discount prices and buying books over the Internet, as e-books or second hand, has meant it pays to shop around for the best deal. Then surely this must be better for the reader.
As a reader, if you prefer trade fiction, sports books or general literature the contraction in range won't affect you, as prices will remain low. But, if you prefer the more specialist books, your choice will be drastically diminished and the prices will rise. And if you're someone who just likes to browse, you're likely to find your browsing range restricted to the choice Waterstone's, and W. H. Smith’s have decided to offer.
Robert Cole, acting business editor of The Times, argues that one large bookseller is better than none, as Waterstone’s and Ottakar’s need to combine to compete with the price wars instigated by Amazon and Tesco. He says authors should not expect to make any money from writing, as most will never succeed. He argues that the publishing companies should commit to publishing fewer books, even though this will make it more difficult for new authors to get published. He claims that you are fighting a losing battle to oppose the merger.
So, is the book market expanding or shrinking? Tim Hely Hutchinson, the chief editor of Hatchette Livre UK ltd, reports high street booksellers’ sales have plunged, despite their aggressive discounting, whilst bestsellers are breaking records, due to monopolising shelf space. Consequently, new authors will find it increasingly difficult to place their books with publishers, as mainstream publishers are concentrating on finding and promoting the ‘big hits’.
To combat this maybe, we should be supporting our smaller local bookstores but it is easier, and more convenient, to buy books online or to buy them with the weekly supermarket shop. If books were sold at fixed prices, I do not believe it would change this buying trend.
I think we will be seeing an increase in specialist markets emerging and publishers and authors should be encouraged to promote their books to these specialist markets, in the same way as educational publishers do, bypassing the traditional retailer. This means new authors would be better advised to target appropriate specialist markets and smaller specialist publishers with their manuscripts.
This is my opinion. What are your views?