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End of an era?

So the age of 3-for-2 offers is coming to a close – as far as Waterstones are concerned, that is. For years now, we have been lured in by the tables at the front of the shops, bought the two books we actually wanted and cast our  wild card vote, sometimes concluding ‘Well, at least I didn’t pay for that rubbish’; sometimes asking ourselves how we would have discovered that wonderful new author otherwise.

Consumers (presumably those, like me, who cannot walk past the tables, unable to resist the offer of a free book) seem to be reacting positively to the announcement, suggesting that it heralds the return of Waterstones as a ‘proper’ bookshop. I must admit concern that Managing Director James Daunt has hinted at the introduction of a simple pricing structure, with books costing £3, £5 or £7. Since publishers do not price books at £3, £5 or £7, and with the production price of a paper-back nearing £5, this tends to suggest that the Nation’s only remaining high street chain of bookshops has been forced to become a discount bookshop in order to survive. Whilst supermarkets can afford to offer heavy subsidies, writing them off as loss leaders, how will a store specialising in one product balance the accounts? And that is before we return to the sensitive issue of the erosion of the value of the written word.

Talking to BBC News, however, author Charles Cumming, argues that being on the table next to a best-selling author such as Lee Child or JK Rowling has given lesser-known writers exposure to a broader audience and new readers. “My worry is that without the presence of a 3-for-2 deal, established authors will still be sold at an attractive price, but that emerging writers will no longer have a platform.” Mr Cummings, With publishers having to buy their places on the tables, this privilege has only been available for the lucky few. The majority of new authors battle to convince shops to stock their books.

In her interview with The Metro this week, crime author Val McDermid, optimistically claims that “quality will always rise to the top,” word of mouth being the best form of advertising, even if publishers have not promoted a book. However, to start that ascent, the general public does have to be aware of the publication in the first place. My local Waterstones has very helpfully positioned shelves near the front of the shop for new fiction, staff recommendations, and local authors  It will be interesting to see what will be displayed on the coveted tables in the future.