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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
Author laments 'loss of book choice'
Harry Potter
Harry Potter: A new release creates mass excitement
Leading British writer AS Byatt has hit out at what she sees as the deteriorating quality and range of literature on sale in the majority of UK book shops.

Byatt - the Booker Prize-winning author of Possession - told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Friday how she was saddened by the apparent triumph of marketing over choice on the book market.

Byatt said shops were now limiting themselves to promoting a few definite best-sellers at the expense of providing consumers with variety and depth.

AS Byatt
Byatt: Saddened by loss of range

"Whereas once you would have had a very large choice of novels, such as every novel by Anita Brookner, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan, now you find a random one or two novels by those people," said Byatt.

"But you find a whole table full of one book which is being pushed very hard by both the author and the book shop," she added.

Recent examples of heavily promoted titles could include the Harry Potter books.

Each title in the series has become a global hit, in the first instance mainly through word of mouth.

But the release of the fourth and most recent was accompanied by a massive publicity campaign.

And author Nick Hornby's novels have shot back up to the top of the best-seller list, in the wake of the hit movie version of his book About A Boy.


Byatt singled out high street store Waterstones as a particular example of a bookseller which sacrificed quality to sales.

Waterstones however defended themselves against Byatt's criticisms, saying they "prided themselves on their range and depth".

"We remain totally committed to offering our customers the very best range of any bookseller on the high street," continued the statement.

It's got much worse recently and you have to go further into the shop to find variety because the windows are nominated by the same titles

Author Deborah Moggach

It added that Waterstones stocked more than half a million titles of the estimated one million titles currently in print, which the company believed to be the best choice available in one retailer on the high street.

Novelist Deborah Moggach offered a middle-ground view. She said the choice was still there but finding it now took a great deal more effort.

"It's not that they (standards) are dropping but that we are barraged by the best-sellers," said Moggach, writer of books such as Close Relations and Tulip Fever.

"It's got much worse recently and you have to go further into the shop to find variety because the windows are nominated by the same titles."


Moggach added that ultimately it was not just the customer that was losing out.

She said the employees of book shops were also finding their jobs less interesting as a result of having to concentrate on just a few titles.

Star Wars
Star Wars: Flavour of the moment

With next week's release of the much anticipated Star Wars film, book shops up and down the UK are seemingly dominated by spin-off books.

And John Howells of Ottakers booksellers said people in his profession would be "mad" not to go with the latest big thing.

"You often see the most exciting book out at that time. But that's perfectly valid," said Mr Howells.

"It's our duty to promote exciting new books as well as keeping a good wide-ranging backlist."

AS Byatt
"You find a whole table of just one book "

Pulp friction
Do book shops favour marketing over choice?
See also:

10 Apr 02 | Arts
Harry Potter book sales slow
03 Dec 01 | Film
Potter breaks Japan records
30 Apr 02 | Film
About a Boy storms to top
21 Jan 02 | Arts
UK book sales hit record
14 Sep 01 | Arts
Nostradamus sales shoot up
23 Oct 98 | Your Money
Book boom nets e-commerce
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