Leading article: A new chapter

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The Independent Online

Despite a long campaign of resistance, which has drawn the support of a large cross-section of the literary establishment, it has finally happened. The Ottakar's book chain yesterday accepted a takeover offer from HMV, the owner of Waterstone's, preparing the way for a substantial consolidation of the high-street book-selling market. Those who fought to prevent this merger fought in vain.

Campaigners against the takeover have painted a bleak picture of what this will mean. They have conjured up images of thousands of small, independent booksellers forced to close in the face of monolithic competition; shelves stuffed with the latest Dan Brown releases as the big chains concentrate on profits rather than the quality of the literature. They paint a picture of a book-selling environment in which choice and diversity, the hallmarks of a healthy literary culture, are fatally narrowed.

The problem with this prognosis is that, over the past decade, the book industry has seen an impressive widening of choice. The big chains have proved adept at catering for minority tastes while still pushing their mass-market titles. There have been no mass closures of independent bookshops. Internet booksellers such as Amazon have made it much easier for buyers to get hold of specialist books.

Competition in the sector has undoubtedly increased. Indeed, this is why Ottakar's was forced to accept a lower bid price than offered nine months ago. But the disgruntled literary activists have yet to demonstrate that the market's development will inevitably result in less choice. Lovers of literature need not despair.

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