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The Independent Culture

ATTEMPTS BY Waterstone's to stop its worried staff from talking to the media by ordering them to "uphold the public reputation of the company" have, inevitably, backfired. Workers tell of a crisis in morale deepened by the drive for a 30 per cent cut in wage costs throughout the chain. Stock levels are falling, staffing to service the crucial website looks on the slim side, and unhappy souls at the till complain about being nudged downmarket to become "the Our Price of books". The sole carrot dangled in front of them involves share-options and a lucrative stockmarket flotation. But an outright sale to the US giant Barnes & Noble still seems more likely.

ATTEMPTS BY Waterstone's to stop its worried staff from talking to the media by ordering them to "uphold the public reputation of the company" have, inevitably, backfired. Workers tell of a crisis in morale deepened by the drive for a 30 per cent cut in wage costs throughout the chain. Stock levels are falling, staffing to service the crucial website looks on the slim side, and unhappy souls at the till complain about being nudged downmarket to become "the Our Price of books". The sole carrot dangled in front of them involves share-options and a lucrative stockmarket flotation. But an outright sale to the US giant Barnes & Noble still seems more likely.

ONLINE, THE battle has heated up with the news that ASDA and Tesco will offer customers any book in print at high discounts, so taking on Amazon, BOL and other online bookshops. Previously, supermarkets have only stocked a very narrow range of high-profile titles. It's good news for the public but not particularly for publishers, since supermarkets always demand super discounts.

FANS OF John Grisham who can't bear to wait for his next novel may be forced to take out a subscription to his magazine Oxford American, based in Oxford, Mississippi. From January, it will devote up to 30 pages in six issues to A Painted House, "a semi-autobiographical family drama with thriller overtones and a heaping of local colour". The book is nowhere near complete, so Grisham fans will be reading the pages straight off the printer. The mag will quadruple its print run to 200,000 for each of the six issues. Meanwhile The Brethren, Grisham's latest thriller, will be published worldwide in the spring.

FORMER CRICKET pin-up Imran Khan is at work on what Macmillan calls a "a political autobiography", due next spring. The founder of Pakistan's Movement for Justice will describe how his mother's death precipitated a period of religious reflection which left him a firm believer in true Islam. Supported by his wife Jemima, nee Goldsmith, whose Lahore fashion house raises funds for the cancer hospital he founded, he is challenging Pakistan's old order and hopes to help form a government based on Islamic values.

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