Well, whose fault is it then?

Last night I met up with some writer buddies so we could do our regular evisceration of each other’s babies (ok, I mean crit each other’s works in process) and a decidedly pessimistic air hung over our secluded table. It was nothing new, nothing we haven’t all been hearing for years, just another conversation about the viability of literary fiction in the market.

Guardian writer Stuart Jeffries today questioned whether Waterstone’s has become a bane rather than a boon to publishers. The book selling chain has attracted a lot of criticism for its capitalist take on the business but hey, it is a business isn’t it?

Far be it from me to restrain myself from bitching and moaning about celebrity memoirs and mindless ghost written ‘novels’, but I can’t deny that, if they make money book shops are going to sell them. I do, however, have sympathy for the argument that it’s unfair of major bookselling chains to expect payments for accepting stock and even bigger payments for including said stock in promotions.

I feel sorry for Tim Waterstone, the founder of the shops who once lead what was seen as a force for good in the book scene. The thing is, it’s not exactly a pattern specific to literature – something starts making money, the big guys move in with their eye on the prize and less so on the stock/product and then the start-up is seen to have sold out. It’s just the way it goes, isn’t it?

Is it the collapse of the NBA agreement that didn’t allow for the discounting of books (for the noble reasoning that publishers should be able to fund lesser selling literary works) to blame? Is it the supermarkets that should be railed at for providing us with books alongside our bogroll? Or is it the fault of every one of us that buys something ‘safe’ rather than challenging or who scours the shelves for the cheapest possible price without considering how they are cutting into the authors/publishers/editors/agents means of survival?

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