Letters: Booksellers' choice

Publishers must choose between booksellers and supermarkets
Click to follow
The Independent Online

On the one hand the publishers are prepared to supply supermarkets with a limited range of titles which they then sell at prices around or, in some cases, below the cost price they charge independent booksellers. Such pandering to supermarkets is largely responsible for the recent problems facing booksellers, including Ottakar's.

On the other hand they want those same independent booksellers to stock and promote titles from their lesser-known authors. Ottakar's had a proud history of stocking and promoting local authors or titles of local interest. Supermarkets will not take a similar punt.

Ottakar's reportedly sold 30,000 fewer copies than expected of Harry Potter's latest outing precisely because the supermarkets, as they have done in the past with milk, bread or baked beans, were selling hundreds of thousands of copies, not as an item with any intrinsic worth, but merely as yet another commodity.

No doubt the supermarkets would say that they are delivering value for money to the consumer, but ultimately, there has to be a decision between value for money and extended choice. Supermarkets boast of their many thousands of stocked lines, but I can no longer get my favourite brand of coffee locally, as my local supermarkets has "de-stocked" it, and rather like a Stalinist purge, such de-stocked products seldom reappear.

Publishers must make up their minds whether they are interested in supporting the independent booksellers or merely in selling millions of copies of a few titles at marginal profit.



How will we cope in a warmer world?

Sir: Your coverage of how Earth is being changed by global warming is to be commended, though it is frightening ("Meltdown", 16 September). However, it seems increasingly plain that humankind has set a process going which, even if it could be slowed down, it is now impossible to halt, let alone reverse.

Therefore, the key question is, what should we ordinary mortals be doing now to prepare ourselves, our children and grandchildren for life in a changed climate which brings a new geography to the world. If, for example, the seas are to rise by six metres within the lifetime of some of us, what should we, and our governments, be doing about this? Do we move house, build flood defences and so create many brand new Orleans, rebuild our towns on stilts? Or what?

How do we preserve the world's farmland, and transport and communications? And how may we help to stave off the hideous disaster threatening countries such as Bangladesh? This last is no pious "do-gooder" question. The submersion of Bangladesh and elsewhere would release a migration movement the like of which history has never seen (and would make Migration Watch look even dafter than it is).

We must think seriously about these questions, so we may act sensibly both as individuals and families, and also press our governments into making proper preparations. The Independent is the newspaper that should take the lead in promoting this thought and action.



Sir: Friday's sobering front page story was hardly unexpected, but what, if anything, are we doing to minimise the awful consequences?

A global threat to human society presents itself, one beside which "terrorism" pales into insignificance. The implications of current climate change trends for human life across the whole of our planet are stark, and brutal. And a global threat requires a global response, which will ultimately require politicians to co-operate if it is to be overcome.

Yet last week at the UN politicians again demonstrated themselves to be incapable of grasping the urgency and scope of action required to combat this threat to our species' survival.

No other issue is as important as the security of life on earth. Within the lifetime of my children or grandchildren, the probability is now that climate change will so damage the earth's ecosystem that life will become unsustainable for millions, and unrecognisable for the rest. Unless those who purport to lead do so, and act now, they will go down in such history as is left to us as culpably negligent in the manslaughter of untold millions not yet born.



Sir: The slogan "saving the planet" requires a coherent definition. It seems to mean "saving the present rapacious human civilisation". Earth will survive until the sun explodes in 5 billion years.



Too many young people in custody

Sir: I congratulate Judge Radford in drawing attention to the severe shortage of secure accommodation for offenders with mental health problems ("Teenage suicide rate 18 times higher among young offenders", 15 September).

Almost a third of all under-18s in custody have significant mental health problems. Time and time again during my visits to custodial establishments I meet children who should not be there. Despite a recent increase in the secure places available for children with mental health problems, there remains much to be done to make sure we are not risking the wellbeing of our most vulnerable members of society.

But equally important are the services available to young people in the community. By intervening early to prevent both mental health problems and offending escalating we can stop vulnerable children and young people being locked up in inappropriate places. Not all young offenders have the same problems, but all need targeted, specialist help to address the causes of their offending. We need to make sure that mainstream services meet the needs of children already on the edge of society.



Lib Dems beware a move to the right

Sir: In light of the Liberal Democrat party's policy review Meeting the Challenge it may go against perceived wisdom but there are many of us in the party, with what one might call a social democrat heritage, who would welcome the election of Ken Clarke as Tory leader. Not least because it would close off the possibility of the Liberal Democrats occupying the current vacuum in the centre-right of UK politics.

Some commentators detect an increasing right turn in some Liberal Democrat circles, evidenced by a seeming fascination for greater private provision in public services, deregulation, flat taxes, increased Euroscepticism and, in general, an agenda that has also been described as "populist". It would represent for many in the party a fundamental shift in strategy.

The next election will be fought on Labour's record in office and, as in May, most "voter-switching" should be between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. However, our party will not be rewarded by presenting itself as a lighter shade of blue.



Sir: It is slightly mischievous of you to suggest that the new narrative of the Liberal Democrats is likely to include both tax rises and cuts in public expenditure, based on selective reading of consultation papers that include a number of options rather than proposals ("Kennedy looks to Thatcher for inspiration", 13 September). Cuts of both, rises in both or the status quo would be more likely outcomes.

It is also wrong to suggest hordes of activists will rise up in rebellion should there be public spending cuts or indeed a cap on EU public spending. On the first it depends on the issue: the scrapping of the DTI, for example, was very popular. On the second it would be difficult to find many liberal pro-Europeans who would accept more money to the EU without massive reforms in the EU's current structure.

It would further be unusual, after a decade of rampant public spending and Labour tax rises, if the Liberal Democrats were not questioning whether such changes had delivered value.



Glorious views from the Indian trains

Sir: As someone in her fifties who travelled round the world in 2001-2002, I disagree with Daniel Howden's report "Out of steam: India's decrepit railways in line for overhaul" (17 September).

We spent three months travelling round India by train. Only in slow local trains was the choice between first class and "hard". In general we travelled second class non air-conditioned, which meant windows open to the air, seats that folded down as bunks, great conversation, and the most glorious views: every window frame a photo.

In a year's travel largely in developing countries only one train was late (and one hour in a 24-hour journey is not so bad). When we arrived back in the UK, we were stuck for an hour in a Tube outside Heathrow, because of a failed signal.

The Indian train system is dirty and overcrowded, yes, but sitting on the floor looking out of an open door at the Indian countryside beats doing the same in an enclosed overcrowded British intercity train for which one has paid 20 times the fare for a tenth of the distance.



Terrorism and other threats to life

Sir: Presumably Gareth Marr (letter, 16 September), keen to restrict his employees' civil liberties in order to protect them from the statistically small risk from terrorism, has already banned them from driving cars and crossing the road in order to protect them from the much greater chance of being killed in a road accident?

I thought not. Get a sense of proportion, man.



Sir: Charles Clarke's plans to criminalise the "glorification" of terrorism poses a genuine and urgent threat to British citizens. While this Government has revealed itself to be authoritarian in the past, this proposed legislation marks a new watershed in the erosion of the hard-won right to hold oppositional views.

Just as the right to peaceful protest has been steadily assaulted by government legislation under the rhetorical cover of the threat from "terrorism", so even the discursive definition of what should be seen as "terrorism" itself comes fully under the mandate of government authority.

This gradual but insistent colonisation of both physical and mental space for peaceful dissent must be resisted as a matter of responsibility by all those who value freedom in Britain.



Sir: Tony Blair is clearly a highly intelligent man. What is it then that renders him apparently incapable of understanding that every time he talks about the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent civilians his words call to many people's minds not only the victims of the terrorist bombs in London and Iraq but also the victims of his own "coalition" bombings?

Could someone please explain the ethical principle which makes the slaughter and maiming of innocent civilians morally acceptable when the bombs fall from the sky, but morally indefensible when they don't.



Sir: Tony Blair, in his speech to the UN, said that the terrorists want us to believe "that the terrorism is all our fault". Well I have news for Tony: I and millions like me all over the world believe it is his fault.

He and George Bush went to war with Iraq for no reason than greed for oil and lust for blood. A better man would have resigned long ago but I cannot believe Tony Blair has a noble thought in his head.



Plea for decency

Sir: Concerning Alison Lapper Pregnant, I heartily agree with Stephen Green of Christian Voice (report, 16 September). The statue should, of course, be clothed, as should the Venus de Milo, in a nun's habit. Michelangelo's David and Pieta should similarly be covered in traditional rubber diving suits and helmets. Decency must prevail.



Sober cricket

Sir: Like Tim Curtis (letter, 17 September), who complains of drunken misbehaviour by fans at the Oval, I attended a day at the Test with my 12-year-old son -the Trent Bridge Saturday. We sat in the Fox Road stand, where alcohol and smoking are forbidden. I commend Notts CC for their approach. Furthermore, having just received details of the international cricket next year, I notice that seats in this stand, which has a superb view, are the cheapest to be had at Trent Bridge.



Sir: If Gordon Brown had been Prime Minister at the time of the Ashes win the England team could have been congratulated by an MP who has a constituency in another country which has its own parliament and which is a sports rival to England. Is this another dimension to the "West Lothian Question"?



Study first, pay later

Sir: I welcome the new proposals to allocate university places after students have received their A-level grades ("Radical shake-up for university entry", 9 September). Can we expect the same logic to be applied to higher education funding and allow graduates to pay for their education after they have made their money? I believe this radical suggestion used to be called "income tax".



Fairytale ending

Sir: I had my first child at age 46, following six miscarriages and would be the first to advise other women not to leave it so late ("Health warning on women who give birth late", 16 September). However, since I only found my husband when I was 41, I would like to point out that the delay can be as much to do with kissing toads as about having a career first.