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An acquisition, a bankruptcy, a firing

29 January 2007

We're only just coming up to the end of the first month of the new year, but already there are signs that the pace of change is not going to slow.

In the US the filing for bankruptcy of Advance Marketing Services, which sold and distributed books for many publishers, is causing a ripple effect. The publishers are being forced to face the likelihood of big write-offs. The company's 40 largest creditors are owed around $224m (£115m) between them, but many of AMS's small publishers will also be seriously affected, as most of them were distributed by its subsidiary Publishers Group West.

In the UK last autumn's startling news that Entertainment UK, a division of Woolworth's, had bought the wholesaler THE was succeeded by the even more surprising announcement that it had acquired the Bertram Group. There must be a further question for the Office of Fair Trading over this acquisition, as Bertram's is one of the two big wholesalers in the UK and also has around 30% of the library supply sector.

Whilst the book world is absorbing the impact of these major shifts in its universe, two stories from last year have run to their natural conclusion, showing that moral imperatives still operate in the publishing world.

Judith Regan, long thought impregnable because of the big bucks she generated for HarperCollins and News International, has been fired after the debacle surrounding O J Simpson's book (see News Review 27 November)

And the Sobol Prize, the prize for unpublished writers which required a submission fee of $85 - £43.50 - (see News Review 16 October) has been forced to close down. It has been dogged by controversy, although as Gayle Feldman, the Bookseller's New York correspondent says: 'In our business, it's all right for would-be authors to pay for writing courses that promise contacts (if not exactly contracts), but not to conjure up anything that looks like a reading fee.' Less than a thousand writers had signed up, so the competition was not going to work anyway.

If all this downbeat news seems a gloomy way to start the year, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The big companies will continue to sell and distribute books, by whatever means. And there's another prize for writers, this time fee-free, in the offing, of which more news shortly.