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The Independent Culture

SO, AT last, it's open. Staff at Waterstone's Piccadilly this week threw away their hard hats and welcomed publishers, the press, authors - and finally customers. Five floors ofbooks, another of magazines and gifts, another for events, with bars and restaurants dotted throughout: 265,000 titles and 1.5m books along six miles of shelving. At 66,000 sq. ft., can the world's largest bookshop pay its way? Commentators believe the store will need to gross £15m. a year just to break even. And London, like the rest of the UK, is now over-bookshopped. Lesser branches are feeling the pinch, with cost controls affecting every area, not least staffing. Waterstone's bid to persuade publishers to cough up £100 for every backlist title on their core stocklist is nothing but a blatant attempt to take in extra cash.

SO, AT last, it's open. Staff at Waterstone's Piccadilly this week threw away their hard hats and welcomed publishers, the press, authors - and finally customers. Five floors ofbooks, another of magazines and gifts, another for events, with bars and restaurants dotted throughout: 265,000 titles and 1.5m books along six miles of shelving. At 66,000 sq. ft., can the world's largest bookshop pay its way? Commentators believe the store will need to gross £15m. a year just to break even. And London, like the rest of the UK, is now over-bookshopped. Lesser branches are feeling the pinch, with cost controls affecting every area, not least staffing. Waterstone's bid to persuade publishers to cough up £100 for every backlist title on their core stocklist is nothing but a blatant attempt to take in extra cash.

MEANWHILE, RIVAL Borders will next Friday unveil its latest store - 40,000 sq. ft. in Charing Cross Road. For a trial period at least, it will open 24 hours a day. CEO Richard Joseph believes the public will "welcome the chance to combine their late-night social life with the opportunity to do some serious browsing". But even in New York, where they have long been upmarket pick-up joints, bookshops close by 11pm. No doubt London's down-and-outs will enjoy the warm welcome.

LORD LAMONT has had second thoughts about the title of his book. First billed as The Chancellor's Story, it will now be called In Office. An interesting change - in his resignation speech, Lamont's description of the Tories as "in office but not in power" was seen as a ringing condemnation of the Major years.

THE WRITING of Andrew Morton's first biography of the late Princess of Wales is to be made into a TV docudrama. Now the search is on for actors to play cigar-smoking publisher Michael O'Mara, and the "writer and thinker" himself.

THE IRISH are taking over. In the US, Oprah has announced Maeve Binchy's Tara Road as a Book Club selection, with a printing of 1m. copies. Now Cathy Kelly, the Irish novelist launched here with Woman to Woman, has left Headline for HarperCollins. Her contract, which covers three unwritten books, is worth a cool seven figures, which puts Kelly up there with Marian Keyes (Penguin), who led the latest Irish invasion.

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