The purchase of wholesaler Bertrams by Smiths News (not part of WHSmith, incidentally - it separated from WHS in 2006), is good news for independents, since it secures the future of a supplier many of them use. But the future still remains difficult for indies. Some publishers and chain retailers are slightly mocking at trade gatherings over various comments on the Bookseller's website calling for the Net Book Agreement to be reinstated. Yet this mockery should not be so loud.
In yesterday's Guardian, the literary biographer Michael Holroyd wrote: 'The end of the net book agreement has not worked to our long-term advantage. Would that we, like the French, could repeal it.' He was referring to last week's story in the Bookseller on the French government's decision not to reform the law on fixed book prices ( http://www.thebookseller.com/news/79885-fixed-book-price-safe-in-france.htm). MP for Savoie, Herve Gaymard said the law had been "incontestably positive" and that reform would be "imprudent".
One can hear the more hard-nosed and commercial of publishers and retailers now mocking Holroyd as the last person to comment on the business side of the industry. "He's back with the Bloomsbury Group and Lytton Strachey, isn't he?" Yet consider this. According to Gaymard, France - which has a population not dissimilar to the UK's, of 65m - has 3,500 independent bookshops. The UK, with a population of 61m, has 1,350. It can't help but make you wonder.