Arifa Akbar: Big money is going to the biggest names

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The publishing trade has always drawn strength from the smug refrain that "books are recession proof". Until now.

Book sales have taken an unforeseen tumble; we find redundancy announcements made at Random House, HarperCollins and Waterstone's and writers face a precipitous drop in advances. Even Richard & Judy's Book Club has been given the chop.

Damage limitation exercises for Super Thursday – 1 October, when the publishing world whirrs back into action after the summer interregnum, are being put in place.

An onslaught of celebrity memoirs are set to hit front of stores, including offerings from Paul O'Grady, Simon Pegg, Ozzy Osbourne, Jack Dee and Peter Kay. Publishers who dared to take a punt on previously unpublished authors (think Aravind Adiga, whose debut novel won the Booker prize last year), are now preferring to hand seven-figure advances to guaranteed big-hitters such as Dan Brown and Terry Pratchett.

It all should force the industry to reflect on the demise of the Net Book Agreement – the equivalent of a gentleman's handshake on book prices. The agreement's collapse did not just pave the way for supermarkets and chain stores to dominate the trade with deeply discounted prices, but it was at this point that books lost their immunity from the changing winds of market forces.

Come autumn and the onslaught of celebrity tomes, books may indeed prove to be recession busting, but at what cost?