Since the NBA disappeared, 500 independent bookshops have closed. Borders has swooped on to our high streets – and then ceased trading. Dillons is a distant (bad) memory. The market has narrowed. The shelf life of most novels is far shorter, as are the careers of most writers. Statistics tell us that more books are published – but most of those are self-published or sold by tiny firms with next to no marketing push. The real story of the industry is the slashing of lists, mergers, collapses, buy-outs, sackings and losses on a scale never before witnessed.The Net Book Agreement, put into place in 1899 in the UK allowed publishers to set the retail price of books, but in the 1990's the agreement was torn up to allow free market forces to take over. But Sam Jordison in The Guardian asks whether this was a good thing for the book industry in the long term.
Now, instead of a cartel, we have a virtual monopoly. An agreement that enabled dozens of publishers to set prices for thousands of booksellers has been replaced by a system that allows two or three big organisations to dictate all. Waterstone's book buyers, rather than the book-buying public, decide whether a book succeeds. Supermarkets tell publishers what price to sell at, how many copies to print, what to put on the cover, what to call books and even what to put inside them.