News

High street "a goner" says Cumbrian indie owner

The owner of Derwent Bookshop has declared the British high street “a goner” as the only bookshop in Workington is forced to close after 33 years.

The Cumbrian store will shut up shop within a month, blaming competition from other vendors, the growth of e-books, the rise of internet bookselling and failing bricks and mortar shops.

John Bailey, who has owned the shop for the last 10 years, said there was “not one growing trend” which favoured the future of the high street for retailers. He said: “Everything is going digital, people are shopping online for books from the comfort of their own homes. Supermarkets are increasingly their range extensively and W H Smith is selling books [for] less than the price I pay for them sometimes.”

He added: “People are watching their money, they are not going to come and buy something for £5 more expensive with me when they don’t need to.”

Bailey added the 2009 floods hit trade with the collapse of the town's Workington Bridge sending trade to nearby Carlisle. He said: “The high street, in my view, is a goner. Jewellers have closed up on the high street and charity shops have come in—which is the kiss of death for any high street. It’s been poor for the last 18 months—if I’m being honest I should have closed some time ago.”

Derwent is the third independent bookshop to announce its closure in a week, with The Travel Bookshop in Notting Hill due to shut up shop in two weeks’ time and The Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth set to close at the end of September.

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To be fair, making a go of a bookshop in a town like Workington is as tough a job as there is in Bookselling. Well done for sticking it out for 10 years though.

In the last 2 years our % decline has been - 48% Childrens, 33% Hardbacks, 22% P/Back Fiction and around 25% average all others. The only sector to show any growth is Customer Orders, but that alone will not be able to sustain our business.

The book trade is changing and some stores won't survive, but I believe there is a place on the high street for well run, well stocked bookshops. (and nice staff helps)

Onine bookselling has hardly suddenly arrived so, tough as it is selling books in Workington, perhaps it might have been an idea to embrace the online revolution rather than blame others for taking advantage of it and also offer what the online shops can't...a friendly, personal, local service.

Silver Fox, We are a well run, well stocked shop with knowledgeable and friendly staff. That however is not enough.
Browsers comment how lovely our shop is; alas, comments don't pay the rent.

The high street is under enormous pressure, it's true, but it is not "a goner", in my view. No retailer shuts up shop for the last time with the words - " I could have been better/done things differently.." and while the chains blame the weather, independents tend to feel crushed by bigger commercial forces, whether it's true or not.
Instead of being frightened into giving up, we need to constantly assess how we are doing things, look for new products that sit well with books and reinvent the bookshop for these evolving conditions.
I think big bookshops will go before small ones, because of the drift in some categories towards e-publishing. Small shops can be efficient and offer a good enough range for browsing and order in specialist titles with a speedy service from a wholesaler, plus add-ons like cards, jigsaws etc, to bring in a wider audience than heavy book buyers.

The poor old High Street has to contend with many malign influences, not least councils hiking parking charges. Witness one of my local towns, Bicester.

By removing virtually all casual short-term street parking, it loses 2-3 visits a week from me alone, together with the spending power.

Compare that with other locals such as Thame, Woodstock, or Chipping Norton, all of which welcome visitors with free parking. No prizes for gussing where I do my shopping these days.

So far as bookshops go, there's a nifty one in Woodstock which offers personal service, unusual titles, and a warm atmosphere. Same with Chippie's bookshop, which adds a coffee shop to its delights.

I'm waiting for any of these to add an in-store ebook download kiosk, which - for me at least - would be a winner. Just plug my iPhone in and snap, a new title to take home.

Having been out of the trade for a few months, I can see a couple of key things.

Firstly, the old adage of 'In retail, only three things count - Location, Location and Location.' is truer than ever.

Secondly, the trade needs to recognise that the general hardback is almost dead. Its sole purpose seems to be to jack up the price-fixed RRP of ebooks. Some books will only work in hardback, art photography etc. But 'reading books', forget it.

Do publishers really make anything out of new hardback £18.99 novels discounted to £10 in Sainsburys/ WHS/ Amazon? Indies are obliged to stock them to maintain range (usually paying top whack), but how many go back on returns? Most of my returns were HB novels, nearly all unsold because 'we will wait for the paperback'.

save the returns for the paperbacks that people can also get for 1/2 price elsewhere. dont even bother using the shelf space for new hardbacks.
and if they are paying £10 for the £18.99 new hardbacks, they are over paying !!!

Mr. Bradley, online selling hasnt just arrived, but it has spread the amount of titles it now sells at 40-50% off. (thats a better discount than we get wholesale) that and peoples pocket/spare money needing watching more than ever means they cannot afford to buy off an indie - and we cannot afford to lower the prices. out of our "general" 35% margin comes rent rates power insurance phone internet etc. too, just like the housholders these are all increasing.

we too get many a lovely shop comment. but it dont pay for paperclips never mind the rent.

Interesting times, having just opened an indie in a small west yorkshire town were there hasn't been a bookshop for 30 years, however Bradford and Leeds are very close, the first 7 weeks of opening have been positive and encouraging in spite of tough times in the high street. I have 50% of the shop devoted to books with the other half divided between children's books, educational toys, and quirky gifts that sit with the overall look and feel. Interesting that having installed epos 70% of the sales are still coming from books that occupy 50% of the shop. I mix quality bargain books, selectively chosen with new. I do feel that as an indie you have to offer something different, rather than being just a retailer of product it's the value in the experience of walking into your store that encourages high street shopping. Fortunately, my town offers 4hours free car parking and this does help.

Hi new indie,

Could you drop me an email please? It would be good to do a story on the new shop. Glad to hear it! graeme.neill@bookseller.co.uk

We have an Indie shop here in Ringwood which I use and it's always busy. They seem to have gone for a third of space for full price books, a third for DVD and a third for bargain books and it seems to work well. I went in there for The Finkler question and also came away with Operation Mincemeat (£2.99),Julian Barnes - Arthur and George (£1.99) and an Anthony Hopkins DVD box set with 4 films including Remains of the day for £3.99! I'm not sure where he gets his stock from but it changes regularly and always gets a visit from me whenever I’m in town

Hi New Indie,

I'm from near Leeds and would be interested to find out where your shop is based so I can pop in and stock up on holiday reads.

thanks

Take note and possibly heart (although I fear it's too late) from those that are not all doom and gloom.

Is it beyond the capabilities of a bookshop to offer an exciting online presence as well as a friendly, personal bricks and mortar shop service.

I fear those that are giving up it is truly soon to be over.

Take note and possibly heart (although I fear it's too late) from those that are not all doom and gloom.

Is it beyond a bookshop to offer an exciting online presence as well as a friendly, personal bricks and mortar shop service.

I fear those that are giving up it is truly soon to be over.

Good for you, new West Yorkshire indie! I would like to know where you are as well.

We started selling on-line 10 years ago and it grew over a couple of years to 10% of our turnover but then plateau-ed as others joined in the fun. On the internet 2 is a crowd. It quickly changed from being a price driven market for indies (simply could not compete)to one where survival depended on exclusivity - selling something nobody else had or had thought of. Over time those opportunities evaporate.
.. and how do you know we did or did not offer a friendly, personal, local service?

Sitting in my friendly, efficient independent in Derbyshire, watching the crowds in the superb newly-opened, expensively-refurbished Oxfam book shop across the road, I shouldn't be jealous of a charity, but they've battered the summer trade. As Tesco have hit Christmas sales. I can't see us sitting here this time next year somehow. Wonder if Tesco have any vacancies!

This month 4 high profile UK based independent bookstores have announced plans to close, due mainly to competition from internet retailers and supermarkets (a recent Washington Post article suggest some indies are thriving in USA but that's a very different market)

At the same time, earlier this month, James Daunt said in an interview on Radio 4 re the Future of the Book that he believes physical book shops will NOT survive if they are not good enough – which is actually stating the obvious. The question is: what is “good enough”?

There is absolutely no question or doubt that increasing numbers of consumers are buying books online – whether physical books or ebooks, as well as in supermarkets. Nevertheless, I believe that good independent bricks & mortar bookshops can and will continue to attract customers. However, the 3 key success factors for such bookshops are:

Location, location and location;
Quality of products, i.e. book selection; and
Knowledge and experience of staff.

The threatened closure of The Harbour Bookshop, the Travel Bookshop, Derwent and Pritchards demonstrate that, in the case of the first and third, location is a major factor and in the case of the Travel Bookshop the lack of interest of the next generation to continue means knowledgable and experienced staff will not be available to maintain the quality of selection and service. For Pritchards it also looks like location/footfall and selection of products have been key factors in the closure of its Liverpool shop (aside from competition form the internet and supermarkets of course).

For me a very good example of an “independent” UK bricks and mortar retailer of an in-demand product which was very successful in the 1980s and 1990s because of their locations, quality of product selection and knowledge of staff was the wine merchant Oddbins. Essentially, the double whammy of the internet and supermarkets has killed Oddbins off – they have lurched from one crisis to another over the last 10 years.

I’m afraid, I see much the same happening to many “independent” book shops – they too are being hit by the Internet and by supermarkets and will find it increasingly difficult to attract physical customers and sell sufficient volumes of books to cover their overheads, let alone make money. I wish them luck because they are, and should continue to be, an integral part of our cultural heritage but I fear the days of many hundreds of independent book shops are numbered.

Overall, however, the Internet enables an independent bookshop to address the three key success factors, and more, with much lower overheads than operating one or more physical stores.

Books4Spain, which I will be launching in September, will be one of the first online book shops which has been specifically developed as an online “independent” book shop whose objective is to retain the benefits and attractions of traditional independent book shops whilst using technology to offer better choice, an easier way to discover books about Spain, great customer service and, ultimately, to enable our clients to learn more about Spain, its culture and history.

The sophisticated software platform we have developed can be used to create online independent bookshops such as the Travel Bookshop, The Harbour Bookshop or Derwent and even Books4France and Books4Italy so I'm actually looking forward to a proliferation of online independent bookshops to challenge the hegemony of Amazon.

The Bat says: The online sellers appear to be targeting wholesalers now with the launch of a new trade supplier from TBD-Amazon called "The Deposit" which offers a standard 40% discount to trade accounts & bookshops. Ho Hum.

To be fair, making a go of a bookshop in a town like Workington is as tough a job as there is in Bookselling. Well done for sticking it out for 10 years though.

In the last 2 years our % decline has been - 48% Childrens, 33% Hardbacks, 22% P/Back Fiction and around 25% average all others. The only sector to show any growth is Customer Orders, but that alone will not be able to sustain our business.

The book trade is changing and some stores won't survive, but I believe there is a place on the high street for well run, well stocked bookshops. (and nice staff helps)

Onine bookselling has hardly suddenly arrived so, tough as it is selling books in Workington, perhaps it might have been an idea to embrace the online revolution rather than blame others for taking advantage of it and also offer what the online shops can't...a friendly, personal, local service.

We started selling on-line 10 years ago and it grew over a couple of years to 10% of our turnover but then plateau-ed as others joined in the fun. On the internet 2 is a crowd. It quickly changed from being a price driven market for indies (simply could not compete)to one where survival depended on exclusivity - selling something nobody else had or had thought of. Over time those opportunities evaporate.
.. and how do you know we did or did not offer a friendly, personal, local service?

Sitting in my friendly, efficient independent in Derbyshire, watching the crowds in the superb newly-opened, expensively-refurbished Oxfam book shop across the road, I shouldn't be jealous of a charity, but they've battered the summer trade. As Tesco have hit Christmas sales. I can't see us sitting here this time next year somehow. Wonder if Tesco have any vacancies!

Silver Fox, We are a well run, well stocked shop with knowledgeable and friendly staff. That however is not enough.
Browsers comment how lovely our shop is; alas, comments don't pay the rent.

The high street is under enormous pressure, it's true, but it is not "a goner", in my view. No retailer shuts up shop for the last time with the words - " I could have been better/done things differently.." and while the chains blame the weather, independents tend to feel crushed by bigger commercial forces, whether it's true or not.
Instead of being frightened into giving up, we need to constantly assess how we are doing things, look for new products that sit well with books and reinvent the bookshop for these evolving conditions.
I think big bookshops will go before small ones, because of the drift in some categories towards e-publishing. Small shops can be efficient and offer a good enough range for browsing and order in specialist titles with a speedy service from a wholesaler, plus add-ons like cards, jigsaws etc, to bring in a wider audience than heavy book buyers.

The poor old High Street has to contend with many malign influences, not least councils hiking parking charges. Witness one of my local towns, Bicester.

By removing virtually all casual short-term street parking, it loses 2-3 visits a week from me alone, together with the spending power.

Compare that with other locals such as Thame, Woodstock, or Chipping Norton, all of which welcome visitors with free parking. No prizes for gussing where I do my shopping these days.

So far as bookshops go, there's a nifty one in Woodstock which offers personal service, unusual titles, and a warm atmosphere. Same with Chippie's bookshop, which adds a coffee shop to its delights.

I'm waiting for any of these to add an in-store ebook download kiosk, which - for me at least - would be a winner. Just plug my iPhone in and snap, a new title to take home.

Having been out of the trade for a few months, I can see a couple of key things.

Firstly, the old adage of 'In retail, only three things count - Location, Location and Location.' is truer than ever.

Secondly, the trade needs to recognise that the general hardback is almost dead. Its sole purpose seems to be to jack up the price-fixed RRP of ebooks. Some books will only work in hardback, art photography etc. But 'reading books', forget it.

Do publishers really make anything out of new hardback £18.99 novels discounted to £10 in Sainsburys/ WHS/ Amazon? Indies are obliged to stock them to maintain range (usually paying top whack), but how many go back on returns? Most of my returns were HB novels, nearly all unsold because 'we will wait for the paperback'.

save the returns for the paperbacks that people can also get for 1/2 price elsewhere. dont even bother using the shelf space for new hardbacks.
and if they are paying £10 for the £18.99 new hardbacks, they are over paying !!!

Mr. Bradley, online selling hasnt just arrived, but it has spread the amount of titles it now sells at 40-50% off. (thats a better discount than we get wholesale) that and peoples pocket/spare money needing watching more than ever means they cannot afford to buy off an indie - and we cannot afford to lower the prices. out of our "general" 35% margin comes rent rates power insurance phone internet etc. too, just like the housholders these are all increasing.

we too get many a lovely shop comment. but it dont pay for paperclips never mind the rent.

Take note and possibly heart (although I fear it's too late) from those that are not all doom and gloom.

Is it beyond the capabilities of a bookshop to offer an exciting online presence as well as a friendly, personal bricks and mortar shop service.

I fear those that are giving up it is truly soon to be over.

Take note and possibly heart (although I fear it's too late) from those that are not all doom and gloom.

Is it beyond a bookshop to offer an exciting online presence as well as a friendly, personal bricks and mortar shop service.

I fear those that are giving up it is truly soon to be over.

Interesting times, having just opened an indie in a small west yorkshire town were there hasn't been a bookshop for 30 years, however Bradford and Leeds are very close, the first 7 weeks of opening have been positive and encouraging in spite of tough times in the high street. I have 50% of the shop devoted to books with the other half divided between children's books, educational toys, and quirky gifts that sit with the overall look and feel. Interesting that having installed epos 70% of the sales are still coming from books that occupy 50% of the shop. I mix quality bargain books, selectively chosen with new. I do feel that as an indie you have to offer something different, rather than being just a retailer of product it's the value in the experience of walking into your store that encourages high street shopping. Fortunately, my town offers 4hours free car parking and this does help.

Hi new indie,

Could you drop me an email please? It would be good to do a story on the new shop. Glad to hear it! graeme.neill@bookseller.co.uk

Hi New Indie,

I'm from near Leeds and would be interested to find out where your shop is based so I can pop in and stock up on holiday reads.

thanks

We have an Indie shop here in Ringwood which I use and it's always busy. They seem to have gone for a third of space for full price books, a third for DVD and a third for bargain books and it seems to work well. I went in there for The Finkler question and also came away with Operation Mincemeat (£2.99),Julian Barnes - Arthur and George (£1.99) and an Anthony Hopkins DVD box set with 4 films including Remains of the day for £3.99! I'm not sure where he gets his stock from but it changes regularly and always gets a visit from me whenever I’m in town

Good for you, new West Yorkshire indie! I would like to know where you are as well.

This month 4 high profile UK based independent bookstores have announced plans to close, due mainly to competition from internet retailers and supermarkets (a recent Washington Post article suggest some indies are thriving in USA but that's a very different market)

At the same time, earlier this month, James Daunt said in an interview on Radio 4 re the Future of the Book that he believes physical book shops will NOT survive if they are not good enough – which is actually stating the obvious. The question is: what is “good enough”?

There is absolutely no question or doubt that increasing numbers of consumers are buying books online – whether physical books or ebooks, as well as in supermarkets. Nevertheless, I believe that good independent bricks & mortar bookshops can and will continue to attract customers. However, the 3 key success factors for such bookshops are:

Location, location and location;
Quality of products, i.e. book selection; and
Knowledge and experience of staff.

The threatened closure of The Harbour Bookshop, the Travel Bookshop, Derwent and Pritchards demonstrate that, in the case of the first and third, location is a major factor and in the case of the Travel Bookshop the lack of interest of the next generation to continue means knowledgable and experienced staff will not be available to maintain the quality of selection and service. For Pritchards it also looks like location/footfall and selection of products have been key factors in the closure of its Liverpool shop (aside from competition form the internet and supermarkets of course).

For me a very good example of an “independent” UK bricks and mortar retailer of an in-demand product which was very successful in the 1980s and 1990s because of their locations, quality of product selection and knowledge of staff was the wine merchant Oddbins. Essentially, the double whammy of the internet and supermarkets has killed Oddbins off – they have lurched from one crisis to another over the last 10 years.

I’m afraid, I see much the same happening to many “independent” book shops – they too are being hit by the Internet and by supermarkets and will find it increasingly difficult to attract physical customers and sell sufficient volumes of books to cover their overheads, let alone make money. I wish them luck because they are, and should continue to be, an integral part of our cultural heritage but I fear the days of many hundreds of independent book shops are numbered.

Overall, however, the Internet enables an independent bookshop to address the three key success factors, and more, with much lower overheads than operating one or more physical stores.

Books4Spain, which I will be launching in September, will be one of the first online book shops which has been specifically developed as an online “independent” book shop whose objective is to retain the benefits and attractions of traditional independent book shops whilst using technology to offer better choice, an easier way to discover books about Spain, great customer service and, ultimately, to enable our clients to learn more about Spain, its culture and history.

The sophisticated software platform we have developed can be used to create online independent bookshops such as the Travel Bookshop, The Harbour Bookshop or Derwent and even Books4France and Books4Italy so I'm actually looking forward to a proliferation of online independent bookshops to challenge the hegemony of Amazon.

The Bat says: The online sellers appear to be targeting wholesalers now with the launch of a new trade supplier from TBD-Amazon called "The Deposit" which offers a standard 40% discount to trade accounts & bookshops. Ho Hum.

Nice advert Rod Younger.

We would like to express our sincere warm thanks to both John (and Anne) at Workington's Derwent Bookshop. Over the last 17 years this shop has been one of our best trade customers. We have supplied them with well over £100k of books in this time and always been promptly paid.

When an independant family run, local business like Derwent closes, it is devastating to everyone concerned. Almost like a breavement to its owner, staff, community and suppliers.

It so very sad, Cumbria has now lost two of its best indie bookshops in little over a month, with the closure of Bluebell in Penrith and now Derwent. Both had each traded for over 30 years. That leaves just two traditional bookshops remaining in central Cumbria, (an area south of Carlisle, bounded by Workington and Whitehaven in the west and Penrith in the east. There is also no Waterstones and just a couple of WHSmith's smaller stores, with poorly stocked book departments.

Publishers will now be thinking very, very hard about publishing further new titles on this region. As there is simply no outlets remaining to sell their books.