Amis's 'problem' Information on sale for pounds 5

Amis: no lame duck - but slow mover

WHEN Martin Amis secured a pounds 500,000 advance for his latest novel from HarperCollins last January, London literati were stunned, writes Decca Aitkenhead. What literary jewel could conceivably reward such excess? Not, it seems, The Information which, having failed to make the Booker Prize shortlist last week, is now being hawked by Waterstone's at pounds 5 a throw.

The bookstore insists that the discount, applicable with any purchase of a shortlist title, merely signals its dismay at the exclusion of Amis's tale of a good (but unpublishable) novelist plotting against a lousy (but best-selling) one. Publishing industry insiders, however, say it signals a desperate bid to shift stockpiles of a book which has failed to sell.

"It's nonsense to think it's got anything to do with the Booker Prize. It's an attempt to get rid of that book," said Giles Gordon, a literary agent.

The Information was the number one hardback fiction best seller for only two weeks in early April. It was out of the top 10 by the end of May. "HarperCollins may tell you it's done wonderfully well, but I'm surprised they haven't started selling it for 10p. If people don't want a book, they won't buy it. People have misjudged it all round," Mr Gordon added.

Waterstone's was quick to deny suggestions that it was dealing with a lame duck. "Let me state emphatically that we are not in an embarrassing stock situation with The Information," insisted director Martin Lee. But the speed with which the discount was announced - within an hour of publication of the Booker shortlist - suggests that the Amis problem had been rehearsed well in advance.

HarperCollins negotiated generous deals with bookshops willing to take large quantities of The Information on "firm" sale - that is, on condition that they would not be returned unsold. Excitable booksellers anticipated sensational sales and it is likely that many took up the offer.

Waterstone's was cagey about the exact terms of its purchasing arrangements, but Peter Harland, director of Bookwatch, which compiles the official best-seller lists, was willing to speculate: "I think the Waterstone's move shows there's a lot of unsolds hanging about there."

Around 48,000 copies of The Information have been sold since its publication in March. Last year 120,000 hardback copies of Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy, for which Phoenix House paid pounds 250,000, were sold and in 1989, Kazio Ishiguro's Remains of the Day sold 70,000 hardback copies.

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