A dispute between publishers and authors over controversial plans to introduce age bands for books remained unresolved last night.
J K Rowling and Philip Pullman, two of the biggest names in children's literature, are leading a revolt by thousands of people across the country who are furious at plans by publishers to categorise books by the age at which they should be read.
An emergency summit between the Society of Authors and the Publishers Association this month failed to resolve the standoff. The SoA claims that 77 per cent of children's authors are opposed to having age guidance on books. But publishers maintain that three-quarters of authors have agreed to it.
Pullman, the best-selling author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, has galvanised protests through his website www.notoagebanding. org, which condemns the proposals as "ill-conceived" and "damaging to the interests of young readers".
Rowling has joined his campaign, alongside other well-known children's writers such as Anthony Horowitz and Terry Pratchett. It is also being backed by the Children's Laureate, Michael Rosen.
Pullman dismissed industry assurances that books would not be age-banded without consultation. "Every author... knows what 'consultation' means," he said. "It means the publishers saying, 'This is the cover of your new book', and our saying, 'Well, it's horrible', and their replying: 'Well, tough'."
Many writers are appalled by the notion of someone else deciding how old the people reading their books should be. "The space between the young readers' eyeballs and the printed page is a holy place, and officialdom should trample all over it at their peril," warned Pratchett.
While writers are presenting a united front, publishers are divided. Walker Books, opposed to the move from the start, has now been joined by Rowling's publisher, Bloomsbury. But other publishers, such as Random House, Puffin and Macmillan, remain in favour of age banding.
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