Cover Stories: Ottakar's; The Book People; Hachette

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The Independent Culture

There is a growing body of opinion that the HMV/Waterstone's bid for the Ottakar's bookshop chain will after all be referred to the Competition Commission. Now the Forum of Private Business, which represents 25,000 small and medium-sized businesses, has weighed in, urging the Office of Fair Trading to refer it. Nick Goulding, its CEO, said the predatory move is "grossly unfair and must be stopped," and that "Failure to act will drive many high street bookshops out of business, reducing the choice of books available to consumers." The OFT decision is now due on 2 December. With luck, the news then will mean a happy Christmas for real booksellers.

* The book trade is now into its most important few weeks - when people who hardly ever enter a bookshop may do so in search of a gift. So it's understandable that booksellers who already find themselves squeezed by the supermarkets feel aggrieved that publishers allow The Book People, essentially a door-to-door book club, to undercut retail prices to such a degree. This autumn, the latest titles from The Independent's Anna Pavord and Alan Bennett were both available at under half-price while, in The Book People catalogue, the whole Man Booker shortlist can be bought in hardback for a mere £29.99. The Book People was, in many ways, a good thing, at least when it restricted sales promotions to workplaces. Its catalogues now arrive with the Sunday papers, which changes the rules of the game entirely.

* Earlier this month, Hodder & Stoughton, part of Hachette Livre UK, promoted long-serving staff, including Sceptre's Carole Welch (responsible for the likes of David Mitchell) and Carolyn Mays, who talent-spottted Charles Frasier. Now Hachette has strengthened the line-up at John Murray, bringing in the feisty Kate Parkin. Her brief is to publish quality commercial fiction, so providing a counterweight to MD Roland Philipps's carriage-trade titles.

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