Indie bookshop numbers fall

The total number of independent bookshops on the high street has declined for a sixth consecutive year, according to annual Booksellers Association membership figures.

However, children’s bookshops appear to have bucked the trend, with some even terming it a “golden age” for children’s books.

The BA reported that 73 bookshops closed last year, while 39 opened. However, there were no children’s bookshops among the the shops closing. The number of independent bookshops who are BA members fell to 1,028 in 2012. These numbers have dropped by a third from 2005’s number, when the total stood at 1,535.  

BA chief executive Tim Godfray said: “Closures are always painful and we were saddened to see many bookshops closing last year. The balance of risk in bookselling has changed for good, and now sits disproportionately with the bookseller. We are committed to helping booksellers work closely with publishers to explore new business models to ensure that bookshops continue to have a lively presence on our high streets.”

Godfray’s concerns echo those of Foyles c.e.o. Sam Husain, who recently called on publishers to shoulder more risk and to give independent retailers a level playing field with supermarkets and internet retailers on terms. The Bookseller understands a committee from the BA was due to meet with the Publishers Association trade council to represent the concerns of booksellers at a meeting yesterday (21st February).

However, while long-standing bookshops such as Walkers in the East Midlands, Langtons in Twickenham and Bay Tree Books in Waterlooville closed in 2012, there were new openings for children’s bookshops. The Chicken and Frog bookshop in Brentwood was established, The Pickled Pepper opened in Crouch End, and The Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, London, announced it would open a second bookshop dedicated to children’s books in Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire.

Natasha Radford from the Chicken and Frog Bookshop said: “One of the things we’ve discovered is the importance of diversifying. We have a Waterstones and a W H Smiths in the town, so we do things like craft sessions, and run tuition courses in English and Maths. We’re trying to build up links with local schools  as well—we just ran a writing competition. You can’t sit back and hope that people will find you.”

Katie Clapham at Storytellers, Inc, St Annes-on-Sea, agreed: “You have to be proactive in order to reach people. We’re very used to being cheeky with publishers and suggesting things to them, and going to authors directly to arrange events.”

Louise Topping of Topping & Company in Ely said: “In the past year we’ve hugely expanded our children’s section, and it would be lovely to expand it further. I think one of the factors that is driving it is the quality of children’s books at the moment—there is so much good stuff out there.”

Sheridan Swinson, owner of Aardvark Books in Shropshire, said it was “a golden age” for children’s books. “You see the catalogues or go round the book fairs, and there are so many attractive titles,” he said. Last year the value of children’s printed book market increased by 0.02% to £318.4m.

A further 11 independent bookshops are due to close in the coming weeks ahead of an April business rates rise of 2.6%, as reported in The Bookseller (8th February).