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Poachers' slip

A MOST interesting copy of a letter on Guardian-Observer stationary, signed by the newspapers' editors Alan Rusbridger and Will Hutton, has landed on Pandora's desk. The text of the letter is old noxious stuff: a crude sales pitch designed to lure Independent readers to defect sent out in early February. What makes this letter interesting is that it is addressed to "Mrs N Major" at 10 Downing Street, London, SW1. Pandora feels that the boastful claims made by Mssrs. Rusbridger and Hutton in the letter are hideously undercut by the fact that they - or their staff - appear not to have noticed that Mrs. Norma Major moved out of 10 Downing Street in the middle of last year. (In the meantime, Pandora has taken steps to ensure that Mrs Major, a loyal Independent reader, continues to receive her copy every day at her Huntingdon home.)

Commercial logic

AUTHORS and literary agents on both sides of the Atlantic are incensed by the Bertelsmann purchase of Random House. The deal will reduce the major players in United Kingdom book publishing to just three: Random/Transworld (Bertelsmann-owned), HarperCollins and Viking-Penguin. Random/Transworld will control more than 26 per cent of the UK fiction market and literary agents fear the deadening effect that this will have on formerly lucrative blockbuster novel auctions. At the same time, authors fear that this is yet another example of the "corporatisation" of publishing that has driven so many talented editors out of the profession and left the marketeers in control.

However, yesterday Louis Baum, editor of the Bookseller magazine, put a refreshingly optimistic view of the deal to Pandora. "Yes, this makes Random/Transworld a formidable player, but I don't think it reduces competition in respect of publishers selling books into the market," he said. He believes that the deal will be good for booksellers and book readers. "This is going to change attitudes. Bertelsmann is the third largest media group in the world. Their willingness to invest in books will make the City more keen to invest in publishing. Everyone will see that there's money to be made. In the end, I think more books are going to be sold in this country as a result."

Teutonic tactics

IN THE meantime, where are the Eurosceptics now that we need them? Where is all the rhetorical thunder and lightning about the fact that our precious British literary culture is rapidly falling under Teutonic control? Before the latest Random House capitulation there was a great British family publishing house called Macmillan that was quietly conquered by the German company Holtzbrinck.

Sparklers and pigeons

CALLING all anti-hunting militants. It's time to pack your black balaclavas and head off to South Africa. The SA government has just announced its intention to shoot all the pigeons in its north-western region. The reason: diamond thieves are using the birds to transport their sparkling booty out of the heavily policed zone. According to Manda Msomi, chairman of the SA parliament's public enterprises committee, "The law now is to shoot all pigeons on sight." If you are not the militant type, you might think of expressing your disapproval at this outrage by sending all your diamonds to Pandora's Save the African Pigeon Fund. Then again, you'd be mad if you did that.

Sexgate ripples spread

THE CLINTON Sexgate saga is so popular with readers in America that the usually solemn United States broadsheets are losing their composure in the heat of the battle for good stories. Indeed, hacks from the New York Times have been accusing the Washington Post of being biased towards Paula Jones and her lawyers, while the Post's hacks have come out accusing the Times of being partial to Clinton's lawyers. Recently, the Times published an article that described a Post article as "mostly wrong". Good stuff, the kind of journalism British readers enjoy every day. But the stuffy self-satisfied New York Times lost its nerve and only put the story in its final edition, excluding it from the Times' Internet site.

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