Another quiet week

I often curse rolling news services – the same shots of people getting in and out of hire cars, spooled repeatedly over a reporter telling us no more than he did three hours ago, and the glazed professionalism of the newsreader as she runs through the same script for the eighth time.

The last 10 days have been different, with revelations, theories and mea culpas falling over each other’s heels as the News International story gets ever wider, ever broader.  Has the relationship between the people and the press changed forever?  Or is Murdoch just another variant on the Beaverbrook/Northcliffe/Hearst model?  And can I continue to read The Times with a clean conscience?  (Given that it loses over £50m a year, perhaps I can.)

Meanwhile, the rest of the world slips from view.  Are we still bombing Libya?  Are the Greeks still rioting?  How are the tailbacks on the A303?  Everything else takes a back seat.

Back in Our Corner of the World, the gap between retail’s winners and losers continues to widen.  On the one hand, Sports Direct, White Company, Burberry and SuperGroup have posted exceptional numbers.  M&S has had a successful AGM, Jamie Oliver and Sainbury’s are parting company with hugs all round, and WH Smith is still defying gravity.  On the other hand, Comet’s owners are reviewing bids from prospective buyers, Blacks and Mothercare UK like-for-likes are down, and the last rites are being read over many large and small stores across the country.  Retailers are speaking more openly about the difficult trading climate; and consumers are now talking much more freely about economising and making-do-and-mending – austerity is at least as fashionable as keeping up appearances.  The distinction between retail’s survivors and its fallers is becoming clearer, though the next generation of companies, those that are born in the pit of a slump and rise to dominate the next wave, has yet to emerge.

The deadline for submissions to the OFT regarding  Amazon’s acquisition of The Book Depository is fast approaching, so heads are down across the publishing and bookselling sectors.  The book trade has indicated a total fall in sales of about 3% for the first half of 2011; however, I am more struck by Bertrams’ 7.5% fall in like-for-like revenues for the 19 weeks to 9th July.  If you tap the word “Amazon” into The Bookseller’s Search box, you will find a regular sputter of stories about independent bookshops closing; each of them citing Amazon’s dominance (born, of course, out of consumer preference) as a key reason for their failure.

The drift from bricks to clicks is continuing remorselessly.  For independent retailers (and, perhaps, for old-style newspaper barons) that’s a seismic shift.  Indie bookshops are just at the vanguard of the change, and that “next generation” of retail entrepreneurs is keenly awaited.