It’s a controversial (albeit familiar) stance that any type of book club from Oprah to Richard & Judy encourages homogeneity, which is why the Sunday Herald’s doom and gloom article about whether book clubs are, in fact, “ruining” reading and publishing leaves me feeling more than a little skeptical, even if there are many good points made. “People were initially very sniffy when Richard and Judy announced plans for the book club. They thought it would be about promoting trash fiction,” said publishing commentator Danuta Kean. “But Amanda Ross recognised that people were interested in literary books as well as more commercial ones and the list is a great mix. That can only be a good thing.”
The problem is, Kean explains, “as soon as they saw its effect, publishers started looking for books that would be selected for the Richard and Judy list. They are also looking for a recommendation from Waterstone’s and to be the hot pick on Amazon.” And now that Tesco is teaming up with Random House for its own book club, the cries of commercialization are growing louder.
Even R&J-picked author James Robertson, author of THE TESTAMENT OF GIDEON MACK, has doubts. “The downside is that if someone goes into a book shop and buys the books that Richard and Judy have recommended, perhaps they won’t buy other titles,” he says. “There is no doubt that there are winners and losers in this. That’s something I feel slightly disturbed by. There is a sense that it is very much about corporate dealing.” Cathy Kinnear, manager of an independent bookshop in Glasgow’s west end, concurs. “The book clubs are not about giving people choice,” she says. “They are actually narrowing it. We can offer recommendations that are targeted at our customers, bearing in mind local preferences rather than picking out a few books for the whole nation.”