The new children's laureate, to be announced in June, will be branded the Waterstone's children's laureate for the first time. The chain has been the major sponsor of the laureateship since 2006, and is understood to have pushed hard for the name change when negotiating its continued support for the 2011-2013 role.
Government funding for the position through the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council has been halved from £15,000 to £7,500 for 2011-2012, making Waterstone's sponsorship more important to the laureateship than ever. The MLA grant had represented around a third of the laureate's funding, with a further third coming from the chain and the remaining sum from publishers.
The cut in the MLA's funding is not being replaced, so the laureateship will operate on reduced funds in 2011-2012. Sixteen publishers are contributing to funding the post. In a gesture to other retailers, a non-Waterstone's branded logo will be employed on point of sale for use elsewhere.
Waterstone's buying manager Sarah Clarke said the chain would be "upweighting our activity" around the laureateship this year, with every Waterstone's featuring the new children's laureate in their shop windows. "We will be supporting the role in stores and online in different ways throughout the year and beyond," said Clarke.
John Dunne, chair of the Children's Laureate Steering Group, said: "At a time when public and private funding is under so much pressure, it is extremely heartening to see Waterstone's reaffirming and strengthening their commitment to the laureateship."
A well-known author who preferred not to be named said: "I'm more comfortable about it being a Waterstone's laureateship than I was about a prize sponsored by Smarties. All sponsorship seems to carry a name and this is at least a bookseller, there is nothing to be ashamed of. What could a laureate do to support Waterstone's that wouldn't support the industry? Waterstone's aren't going to say: 'You can only advocate books that are in our three-for-twos.'"
However, Kate Agnew of indie the Children's Bookshop in Muswell Hill, said she was "anxious" about the development. "Hitherto it's been a mutually supportive role for independent booksellers and the children's laureate. One wants to go on supporting it, but if it is perceived in the public eye as the Waterstone's children's laureate, we have to be a lot more careful." She warned the post itself could be marginalised by the development. "It could be seen as a trade thing rather than as an ambassadorial role," she said.
Several publishers are also known to be unhappy at the development. A senior children's publisher said: " A lot of publishers think it takes away from the authority of the role." Walker m.d. Jane Winterbotham said the change "could become extremely tricky" over the issue of impartiality.
Kate Bostock, secretary of the Children's Book Group at the Publishers Association, said: "It is a bit complicated, with two sets of point of sale, but needs must. We want the laureate. The financial situation's difficult and we're very grateful to Waterstone's for supporting it." She admitted: "There may be teething problems."