Saturday, 17 September 2005

Cheltenham has two big bookshops on the Promenade, Ottakars and Waterstones. In my opinion Ottakars is much the better of the two. It carries more books, and its staff are both more knowledgeable and more friendly. naturally I am concerned that HMV, which owns Waterstones, is bidding to buy Ottakars. Joel Ricketts says in today's theguardian that
Nobody predicts that HMV will run Ottakar's as a separate business: it wants a greater brand clout and advertising spend for Waterstone's, which would grow to 333 stores. HMV has already made clear that it will centralise book buying and stock systems.
This implies a distinct reduction in local autonomy, which is one of the strengths of Ottakars.

The Society of Authors are concerned about this issue, and have sent a letter round to their members, and posted it on their web site. Since they encourage us to air our views wherever we can, I do not think that they will object to my publishing their words in full:
You will probably have read the recent press reports about the likely take-over of Ottakar's by HMV, owners of Waterstone's. The Management Committee considers that the take-over, if approved by the Office of Fair Trading, will be a bad development for authors, publishers and the public. We will shortly be making a submission to the Office of Fair Trading, arguing that the take-over would be against the public interest, because of the dominant position that would be occupied by the combined group, and should be referred to the Competition Commission. If you wish to make your own comments on the proposed take-over to the OFT, please address them to Ms E Rotondo, Office of Fair Trading, Fleetbank House, 2-6 Salisbury Square, London, EC4Y 8JX ( Submissions, which must be received by 23rd September, will be treated in confidence.

The future of Ottakar's came under close scrutiny when James Heneage, the Chief Executive, proposed that Ottakar's, a publicly listed company, should be taken private once again via a management buy-out (with the help of City backing). He said that Ottakar's needed to improve/update its systems significantly and that this could not happen easily or quickly as a public company. The management buy-out proposal led to a bid by HMV, which looks as though it will succeed unless there are regulatory complications. HMV claims that Waterstone's and Ottakar's between them control 24% of the retail book market, which would not normally trigger a referral to the Competition Commission. However, if one considers stock-holding book retailers, excluding, for example, supermarkets and airport bookstores (all selling large quantities of very few titles), the combined share of Waterstone’s and Ottakar's is probably in the region of 50%.

Ottakar's generally good reputation may, of itself, not cut much ice with the OFT, which is going to be more concerned with the impact of a take-over on the book market and the public. What seems clear is that if Ottakar's is consumed by Waterstone's, the range of books available to the public will decline, with Waterstone's exercising yet more control over what is sold (and to some extent what is published). Life for mid-list authors will get tougher still. Publishers may well be forced to concede more discount and royalties may be hit.

Our considerable reservations about this take-over should not be taken as implying criticism of Waterstone's, which over the years has done much for writers. Our concern is about its further expansion and the possible demise of Ottakar's. If you share our concerns, do please air your views where you can - in the press and with the OFT.
Wenlock is not a campaigning blog, and I will not use it to air my opinions on matters unrelated to writing and reading, but the future of the best bookshop in Cheltenham (and excellent bookshops across the country) is definitely within the scope of what I want to blog about. Please do what you can.


annie h said...

I love the Ottakar book shops.The staff are very helpful.They are very up to date with their computers.I dont want them to be taken over by anyone

Anonymous said...

As someone who worked for Ottakar's in Cheltenham, firstly, thank you for the positive stuff, it is much appreciated. We always tried very very hard to make ourselves different from the Waterstone's down the road, especially in terms of the people we employed, their knowledge and enthusiasm and their ability to communicate these things!

The academic window with the Jordan book in it was intended to be ironic! The fact of the matter was that we had to have a window with Jordan's book in and it seemed like an opportunity to have a little fun. We talked about it beforehand and I guess that we just got that wrong if it came across as an unwitting and inappropriate juxtaposition of popular and 'high' culture. Sorry.

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