Wottakar’s: the news sinks in

By Carmen Comment

Now that the Competition Commission has essentially given the go-ahead for HMV to buy Ottakar’s — merging Waterstone’s and Ottakar’s in unholy matrimony – reactions from the publishing world are very mixed, to say the least.

In Scotland, the mood is grim, as the Herald reports on widespread dismay and disappointment. “When Ottakar’s and Waterstone’s were independent you would get two different books of the month, giving small publishers a chance. With merging we may only see one book of the month,” said Ian Rankin. And the paper’s literary editor, Rosemary Goring, worries that the 3-for-2 streamlining seen in England will now fully cross over into Scottish territory.

The Independent takes stock of reactions in England, and there’s plenty of shock and outrage as expressed by the Society of Authors (” Life for mid-list authors will get tougher”) and individual writers. Says literary agent Ed Victor, ” “I don’t think it’s a good thing at all. I’ve been in this business for a long time, and the biggest change has been power shifting towards the bookseller. As the discounts get higher, the authors’ royalties get lower.” But author Tracy Chevalier is more circumspect. “…what goes around comes around. Waterstone’s could be taken over by someone else, but there’s always room for someone else to turn up. Waterstone’s was owned by WH Smith. It’s always a different permutation, and so I don’t feel so bad about it.”

And since the final report won’t be out till the end of May, Publishing News reports that “interested parties can make comments on the provisional findings by contacting Alan Shearman, Inquiry Secretary by April 19.” No doubt there will be a flood of them…