W.H. Smith’s: Begone Abomination!

Rowling won the WH Smith People’s Choice Book Award: Ali, Pratchett, and Michael Moore also took prizes. Best news is probably Geoff Dyer picking up the travel prize for Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It.

No huge beef about the prize: there were complaints, but I’m not that fussed myself: it was a popular vote, and Potter conquered. Inevitable, but no need to rehash the Good and Bad of the Potternaut.

(I see that ‘Potternaut’ can be read as a formation implying ‘someone journeying through the Harry Potter books, in fashion similar to those who travel in space’, or ‘a gargantuan behemoth that tramples all before it.’ Please take with the latter sense dominant.)

Probably not worth mentioning, only it’s press day, I’m knotty, stressed and tired, and I need a punchbag. So, it’s time for a semi-coherent rant about that piss-stain fouling your High Street – W! H! Smith’s!

Firstly, they behave as though they don’t have a responsibility in the world. Their shops, in the 1980s, were the only places to get hold of print in a lot of smaller towns: growing up in the provinces a lot of people had to get their books from Smith’s, and this’d be fine if they didn’t spend the 80s and 90s sinking into swinishness: there was heavy attrition of their better sections, poetry getting smaller and smaller, fewer literary novels, and more drek clogging up shelf-space; that space was eroded, too, eaten away by equally half-arsed selections of CDs, Software, DVDs. The small-town auto-didact always had the library, but was being let down if he wanted to shop.

Plus there’s that ugly puritanical streak: keeping their shelves clean, not allowing anything too ugly up there, scaredy-cat refusal to stock Private Eye and a ton of other good stuff. Self-appointed guardians of the miserable cramped mind of middle England.

The situation got better as Waterstone’s grew: a lot more towns got a bookshop with a wide range of stock. Then Smith’s took them over. Oh Dear. Farewell to independent buying, enthusiastic staff, and a book-loving CEO. Hello to the 3-for-2 homogenous parody of choice. Now you can’t take even stock into their Costa Coffee Shops. Nice going! Sever that bond of trust! Treat us as though you hate us, and we will hate you.

They like to screw trade as well as public. I’ve never heard anything but a litany of hate when any independent publisher has discussed a distribution deal made with WHS. Huge cut of the cover price, iffy return counts, just a real theatre of horrors.

I’m being a bore, so I’ll stop. But that made me feel a little better.

I think it’s illegal to suggest that it’s right to steal from Smith’s. Why must the law be so tiresome?

Congratulations to Dyer!