Saturday, September 17, 2005


All Hail Our Dread Sovereign, King Wottakar

"One hesitates to make predictions about the future of Ottakar’s bookshops, the sale of which has been through numerous twists and turns," notes Nicholas Klee in today's Times of London. "Nevertheless, it appears to be almost certain that the chain will fall into the hands of HMV, the owner of Waterstone’s. HMV’s offer of 440 pence a share has trumped that of an Ottakar’s management buyout team led by its founder James Heneage..."

Press coverage of Waterstones and the potential merger have been -- as Klee puts it -- "consistently unflattering." My own experience has been that Waterstone's has a consistently better selection of serious literary work than any US chain, and indeed better than most other British booksellers as well. Even so, Klee points out that the degree of consolidation liable to happen here is quite serious:
If you have written a sensitive first novel, and Wottakar’s (let’s call it) supports it, you are likely to see much more than a quarter of the print run being sold through the chain. To put it another way: if Wottakar’s does not support your sensitive first novel, you are likely to be struggling. That is why people are worried. One leading publisher told me that Wottakar’s would have “a potential market share of well over 60 per cent of specialist high street bookselling”.

It will be interesting to see, though, whether Borders -- which has already made some inroads in Britain -- will go directly head-to-head with this single competitor. No doubt there will soon be some empty Ottakar storefront ready for them scoop up...

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