Academic retailers have demanded that academic publishers provide them with greater support, arguing that the current model is "not sustainable" in the long term.
The development comes after Waterstone's m.d. Dominic Myers warned that the academic bookselling industry was at "crisis point". Speaking at the Bookseller Association's annual Academic, Professional and Specialist Bookselling Group conference last week, Myers called for academic publishers to "significantly" increase their support for the chain.
Senior trade figures have shared Myers' concerns. Peter Gray, chairman and c.e.o. of John Smith, said that the relationship between publishers and booksellers needed to operate at a more strategic level.
He said: "I absolutely agree that booksellers and publishers need to sit down and have a frank discussion about how to shape the future of the market. The majority of booksellers are struggling to see growth and when you do not see growth you focus on cost and costs are going the wrong way‚ there is no doubt about it.
"There is no right answer but the wrong answer is for publishers to sit back and let events take their course. Doing nothing is not an option."
Blackwell's business development director David Prescott agreed that the model for academic bookselling was "not sustainable" in the long term. He said: "However,[Blackwell] remains committed to breadth of range in stock-holding bookshops year-round, and we will continue to work actively with publishers on finding new solutions to ensure customers continue to see the broadest possible range of academic stock in our shops."
Academic publishers at Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press pledged support for the high street academic sector but refused to elaborate on what form that support would take.
Ben Ashcroft, CUP's sales director for academic and professional books, said: "We're looking at all the issues Dominic has raised and talking to our UK retail customers about the best way to support them."
Al Lewis, academic sales director at OUP, said: "Retail is an important part of our UK operations and we are working actively with all our customers including Waterstone's to find ways of working together to innovate and support the sales of our content across all formats."
In his speech, Myers said: We need to improve our margins. I don't mean our usual half a percent haggle, I mean moving the dial significantly towards booksellers. We on our part will introduce a much bigger diversity of student-friendly product to improve margin but academic book margin is down to you."
Waterstone's is sourcing stock from academic publishers Taylor & Francis and Elsevier through Gardners rather than through its book hub. The change in supply is understood to be related to a number of factors, including the level of returns Watestone's is proposing, but not non-payment of stock.