Hit & Run: Pushy parents? You'll go far

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Are they paragons of drive, wanting only the best for their families, anxious that their offspring should have a head-start in the 100-yard sprint of life? Or are they monsters of social mountaineering, ruining their children's lives by hurling them into the spotlight? Pushy parents are much in the news right now – but are they heroes or villains?

The most high-profile PP so far this year is Joe Jackson, father of the late Michael, whose determination to parlay his children's talent into hard cash was little short of tyrannical. His response to his son's tragic demise (apart from complaining that he'd been left out of Michael's will) was to announce a reality TV show in which he'd "get my boys back together." Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, has had a bad press as a manipulative eccentric, but his daughters' astonishing run of wins has brought him grudging admiration. His candour is remarkable: "I started like most parents," he said last year. "I wanted to make a million dollars. I started for the wrong reason."

Elsewhere, Kate Middleton's mother Carole has been accused of daughter-grooming on a giant scale: if you believe the gossips, she persuaded Kate to apply for St Andrews University because Prince William was going there; she made her take up riding, simplify her dress sense and get a job (as a fashion buyer) that left her plenty of time for royal-girlfriend duties. But some newspapers admire Carole's drive. The Daily Mail suggests that "having ambitious parents can be four times as important as having rich parents," clearly a verifiable statistic.

Tell that to Britney Spears, whose father, Jamie, a swaggering redneck and recovering alcoholic, used her success as his way out of penury: he became her "conservator" 18 months ago and given total control over her business affairs. True he reined in her party lifestyle, but only to push her into a gruelling world tour which would net him $150m.

Noël Coward told parents, "Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington." His words have been ignored – now, parents strive to put their daughters on the screen, the throne and on Centre Court. Behind every Little Miss Sunshine, there's a mother beaming encouragement (Shirley Temple's ma used to stand in the wings during rehearsals, shouting "Sparkle, Shirley, sparkle!" at the four-year-old star) without counting the emotional cost. There's a difference between pushing your talented kid to the footlights – and pushing her over the edge. John Walsh

New Da Vinci code baffles booksellers

Booksellers are facing a daunting time. Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, due from Transworld on 15 September, is likely to acquire a couple of alternative titles in the minds of Britain's hard-pressed specialist bookstores. One might be The Loss Leader. The supermarkets and high-street chains which strive to cut their smaller rivals' throats will slash the novel's price as an inducement to cross the threshold and buy more profitable items. The other ought to be The Lost Margin. Yet again, a hype-driven "event" publication will drive casual readers away from shops that know how to sell books, and towards the cut-price titans whose economies of scale give them the clout to muscle in on bestsellers.

How low will discounts on The Lost Symbol go? Amazon is offering it at 50 per cent off: £9.49 compared to the utterly meaningless "recommended retail price" of £18.99. Bookstore chains will follow suit, while Asda and Tesco could well undercut even that rock-bottom level. Eventually, some bold chain will surely offer free copies of Brown's book with other purchases.

In normal times, these tactics would look risky. Mid-recession, with publishing confronted by a perfect storm of online threats to revenue and cost-cutting consumers, they could prove suicidal for any business foolish enough to compete with the giants. The UK book trade got itself into this mess in the first place because, in 1995, it connived in the abolition of the price-setting Net Book Agreement. Short of a legislative shift back towards more high-street regulation – unlikely under a future Conservative government – it has to live with the monstous offspring of this fit of free-market fundamentalist madness.

So independent stores that have managed to survive face two options. The first, employed when discounts deepened on the Harry Potter series, will be to head to superstores, fill up on dirt-cheap copies, and re-sell them at a less purgatorial price. The second will be to use the inevitable backlash to shun the book entirely and promote the rest of their stock in proudly Brown-free zones. If you can't beat the retail behemoths, don't even try to join them. Boyd Tonkin

I am not a plastic bag

When times get hard, the fash pack get a new bag. Or a classic one, at least. Prestigious French label Hermès has reported a profit surge of over 12 per cent, driven by sales of the grandes dames of It-bags, the Kelly and the Birkin, as seen on the spindly arm of Victoria Beckham. There is, they claim, a "persistently strong demand" for their eye-wateringly priced leather goods. The reason? Well-off shoppers are playing safe.

"Consumers focus their expenditure on iconic products so they know they won't go wrong," says Luca Solca, senior analyst of luxury goods and retail at Bernstein Research. And Hermès have done well to focus on the exclusivity and aspirational values of their trademark pieces. "The further you move from your core products, the more challenging it is and the more disappointing the results are," adds Solca.

Expect Gucci and LVMH to report similar stories next week. And then, if you do have a spare £5,000, get yourself on the waiting list for the investment buy that'll see you all the way through the recession. Harriet Walker

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