Price of books to rise, say publishers

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BOOK prices will rise and the number of titles will fall because of the supposedly price-cutting abolition of the Net Book Agreement, publishers are now saying.

In particular, manuscripts that do not have obvious blockbuster potential will be much less likely to appear in print.

Publishing houses are scrambling for a dwindling number of bankable authors, and leading figures in the industry admit that new authors face a tough future. Exasperated independent booksellers say that publishers are "stuck" and directionless, following the discount frenzy which heralded the downfall of the agreement. "There just aren't enough good books to maintain this situation", said one.

Larry Finlay, marketing director of Transworld and previously a supporter of the Net Book Agreement, explained that its demise would further reduce the number of books published each year. "We have been reducing our lists to eliminate any books that are not top rate", he said. "We will still publish first novels, but only if the author has a future."

Helen Fraser, publishing director of Reed Books, agreed: "Ten years ago the lists were full of books that just ticked over. Now these have become virtually impossible to publish and we must concentrate instead only on titles with enormous sales potential. There just aren't enough extraordinarily good books to go around."

While the Society of Authors has yet to see subscriptions fall, deputy general secretary Kate Pool thinks that new authors who are lucky enough to get published will have only one chance to prove themselves: "The people who will suffer are those on their second books whose first didn't do so well."

As publishers' lists get shorter,it seems inevitable that book prices will rise, with less popular titles becoming more expensive in order to fund discounts on a dwindling number of new bestsellers.

These in turn will be published with higher "recommended" prices as publishers try to recoup their costs.

While Reed says it will only bump up the big names, Transworld is contemplating putting all prices up, although it will not negotiate discount deals until the new year.