Waterstone’s and Ottakar’s Merger

Hot off the Galleycat press — so hot that the story has yet to be run by BBCi or Guardian Unlimited — it appears that the Office of Fair Trading has not been con­vinced by the reas­sur­ances of HMV, the Waterstone’s par­ent com­pany, that their planned takeover of Ottakar’s will not res­ult in reduced com­pet­i­tion in the high street. The OFT will refer the plan to the Competition Commission. (For more back­ground on this story, see this Telegraph art­icle.)

The HMV group is, under­stand­ably, not happy. This quote via Galleycat, cit­ing an art­icle by Fiona Fraser in the Bookseller:

HMV said it was dis­ap­poin­ted that the OFT found dif­fi­culty in clear­ing the trans­ac­tion. The com­pany reit­er­ated its belief that a com­bin­a­tion of Waterstone’s and Ottakar’s will not give rise to any sub­stan­tial lessen­ing of com­pet­i­tion and intends to pur­sue vig­or­ously its pos­i­tion before the Competition Commission.

What does this mean for the aver­age read­er? A cut in the action, really. You won’t see any changes in the high street for a while yet. Authors and pub­lish­ers will, in the short term, be reas­on­ably happy. A pub­lish­er needs as expans­ive a pres­ence as pos­sible to optim­ally tan­tal­ise read­ers with its wares, and a diverse retail envir­on­ment would fit with this need. Authors want to know that their books have a chance of appear­ing in the high street irre­spect­ive of wheth­er a cent­ral­ised buy­ing team (like Scott Pack’s; see my earli­er art­icle) gives them the nod. Of course, there is no great cer­tainty that a mer­ger would be a bad thing for authors; we just don’t know what kind of rela­tion­ship neigh­bour­ing branches of Ottakar’s and Waterstone’s might have. My gut feel­ing is that fierce com­pet­i­tion would not be in the interests of the par­ent com­pany, but, then, I’m just a writer, not a high-powered exec.

I have an inter­est­ing foot­note: Shortly after I pos­ted this art­icle about Scott Pack, in which I bemoaned the par­tic­u­lar dif­fi­culties of get­ting my book into the loc­al Waterstone’s — dif­fi­culties I still have — I received an email from the man him­self (I’m assum­ing it was genu­ine!) ask­ing to read my book. It isn’t every day that the chief buy­er for the largest book­seller wants to read your nov­el, so I sent him a copy forth­with, along with my busi­ness card, a pressed flower, and a crisp fiver.

Tempting as it is to buy a Ferrari on HP, I’ll remain in ‘grumpy young man’ mode and keep my upper lip stiff about the whole busi­ness. There are two halves to being a writer. (Not that I’m a vet­er­an, but this is how it seems to me.) One is hav­ing the tal­ent, which you are respons­ible for, and one is hav­ing the luck, which is at the caprice of lar­ger forces. You need to be ready to surf those big waves of luck when they come. Will the wave peter out before it gets to me, or will it carry me laugh­ing to the shore, or will it be one of those waves that’s far too large and eats you up com­pletely, tum­bling you to its base, and then gives you a thump on the neck with your own board and dumps you on the shore, where you need a good lie down?

I’ll let you know.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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