Cover Stories: Da Vinci spin-offs; Ottakar's

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The Independent Culture

With the film of The Da Vinci Code due in May - though that could change if Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent succeed with a plagiarism action, in the High Court soon - 2006 looks set to unleash a torrent of titles on Leonardo and his Last Supper. But one US title takes the biscuit. The Diet Code by Stephen Lanzalotta, due from Warner Wellness, will offer "weight-loss secrets from Da Vinci". Meanwhile, Transworld plays down speculation that Dan Brown's new book, The Solomon Key, will appear next autumn. To think that the health and wealth of so much of the book trade is conditioned by the actions of a reclusive ex-teacher.

* Tuesday's news that the bid by HMV, owner of Waterstone's, to buy the Ottakar's chain has been referred to the Competition Commission was greeted with delight across the book trade. Authors, agents, publishers and public - who sent an "unusually high level" of complaints to the Office of Fair Trading - had spoken with a unanimity not seen since Mrs Thatcher threatened VAT on books. Only about one in 10 proposed takeovers is referred. Announcing his decision, OFT chief John Fingleton noted that the chains "compete closely on... non-price factors such as range and variety of books".

The HMV bid has now lapsed, but the group hasn't pulled out; and if HMV does press on, Waterstone's and Ottakar's will be forced to put all plans on hold. And Waterstone's will endure the spotlight of inquiry. Memos, letters, memos - the commissioners can check them all. Waterstone's buying supremo Scott Pack, whose lively missives so engaged the OFT, may find his style much cramped.

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