I’ve remained pretty quiet on the story about my former employer’s making a bid for rival bookstore chain Ottakar’s recently. It is difficult for me to comment on because it could too easily be interpreted as sour grapes or the grinding of the axe (hey, I have no axe to grind, honest – my Viking mate Vegar is the axe man in our gang, I prefer a good sword myself).
Suffice to say I am not in favour of it – not because of my own experiences, but because I believe it can only be bad for readers, authors and publishers (and for many booksellers). Even if I still worked at They Who Shall Not Be Named – indeed even if it was more like the company I first joined years ago I would oppose it. No one bookchain should have such a stranglehold on the high street and on suppliers. It will harm large publishers as even higher discounts and fees for displays are demanded and will crush independent publishers who already struggle to get their books represented in the stores (a result of both business practises and the degrading of local buying – central purchasing and the erosion of expert local buyers in branches have meant it is harder and harder for local publisher to sell their books in local stores owned by chains (not just in my former employer’s chain I must add in fairness, others too).
However, I am not going to go on about it except to point out a few spots where more has been said about it, such as this very emotive piece over on the Overgrown Path and some words from Ariel, which includes a link to the OFT where you can send your thoughts for consideration on the ancshluss; and it will be like annexing another country – I recall when they ‘merged’ with Dillons but promised they would run alongside the company, yet not long after the ones which did not get closed were all re-branded and Dillons vanished. I really don’t want to see this happen to Ottakar’s too.
Do we really want one uber-bookchain feeding us an ever-diminishing range of promoted titles at the expense of variety, diveristy and range depth? With independent bookstores finding it ever more difficult and new authors struggling to be picked because publishers must come up with books they can sell in big numbers to recoup the amount they give away in fees and discounts to chains our literary world is about to get smaller and that is a bad thing. The Telegraph also posted an interesting piece on the subject here, which I found via Cheryl’s excllent weblog on Emerald City. I thought Alan Giles’ comment that publisher weren’t forced to do business with They WHo Shall Not Be Named was hilarious – who, especially given this attempt to take an enormous chunk of the British high street booksales, are they supposed to sell their books to? This attitude is exactly why this merger should not be allowed by the OFT – it will harm the booktrade, deny readers choice and put even more pressure on the remaining independent sellers and publishers.