went into administration, with all of its bookshoops closing down before we all had a chance to join hands and sing Auld Lang Syne to welcome in 2010. As an occasional browser and even more infrequent purchaser of books it was something of a mixed blessing; its rapid progress from announcement to formal closure meant that its store in Leeds - as elsewhere in the country - flogged off its stock at a fraction of the original retail prices, just in time for Christmas. That its closure was perhaps due in part to the sort of retail habits I displayed multiplied across the general population was perhaps by-the-by; it was still one of the high street Usual Suspects that I genuinely didn't mind spending some time in if I had to.
Since then the baton of city centre-based new books has fallen to Borders' erstwhile competitor Waterstone's, who no doubt jumped for joy at their procurement of a virtual monopoly on this lucrative market almost by chance. Which makes this announcement slightly worrying.
The company are to trial a 'face out'-only display of its non-fiction books in selected stores but may subsequently decide to roll it out across the country. The idea is to display all books by their front cover rather than by their spine, the net result being that one hefty tome 'face out' will take up the space of three or four such titles displayed 'spine out'. This, of course, means less choice for the punter.
Obviously this will cause a lot of concern for those involved in writing and publishing non-fiction, but the customer also has much to fear. Fewer titles means a restriction in the diffusion of knowledge, and the current vogue for ghost-written celebrity memoirs by every conceivable Z-lister under the sun means that genuinely scholarly works may feel the squeeze more than most. Given that Waterstone's now has few real rivals the knock-on effect could have serious consequences...