While the majority of independent bookshops are not yet seeing any Brexit affect, some are already starting to see costs rise, retailers have told The Bookseller.
One bookseller said that “most of our non-book suppliers for cards and toys have put up prices, and so we will have to do the same”. Meanwhile another said currency fluctuations following the European Union membership referendum was raising the cost of importing foreign titles. “With some books, we are seeing r.r.p. going from £11.99 to £13.99,” the bookseller said. “This means we can’t afford to buy the titles and there is, therefore, a longer-term risk of us offering our customers far less choice.” A third bookseller voiced concern that “uncertainty [surrounding Brexit] is making some purchasers more cautious”.
They were speaking in response to The Bookseller’s Independents Christmas Trading Survey of 46 indie retailers, which took place between 19th December - 5th January. The majority of indies surveyed (58%) said the Brexit vote had yet to affect their business; of the 41% who disagreed, most said the effect had been negative.
However, others said the UK’s impending exit from the EU had seen certain genres increase in popularity. “People are so pissed off that they are doing more comfort reading, yearning for cosy and nostalgia [titles], which independent bookshops are in a good place to provide,” commented one bookseller, citing the popularity of Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (Virago) and the British Library Crime Classics series at their shop.
Another said that “loyal customers” would continue to support their business once Article 50 is triggered, but feared a knock-on effect should publishers’ profits be hit. “People have got ‘the fear’ at the moment,” the bookseller said. “But we are lucky, perhaps, because our customers are very loyal. They want a bookshop on the high street for future generations. At the same time, this can only take you so far. It is impossible to say how Brexit will impact [us], the question is how it will affect publishers, as this will inevitably trickle down.”
Many said it was simply “too early” to say what impact Brexit would have on their business.
Brexit aside, booksellers’ concerns included competition from online retailers, with 52% fearing it will increase in 2017. Another source of concern for indies was economic uncertainty (45% citing it as a worry) and rising business rates. Others believe that school budgets being squeezed could impact on their profitability—owing to local schools having less to spend on books—as could rising rents charged by “greedy landlords”.
“I’m always worried about the next rent increase,” one bookseller said. “Rents in London are exorbitant.” Another said: “As large chains such as Starbucks come into an area, the larger shop units become unaffordable [to operate] as bookshops.”
Despite these threats, many indies were optimistic about 2017 following a second consecutive year of print sales rises. “I’m very optimistic—as long as good books keep getting published and the industry continues to explicitly support independent bookshop and recognise the value we bring to the wider book trade in terms of seeding new titles, discoverability, events, promoting literacy and community support,” said one.
Another responded, “we have had a good year. Print books are coming back; people are moving away from their Kindles”, with a third adding: “I’m really optimistic. We have had two very good years. There is a lot of good publishing about. Our core business has grown and there are new opportunities in education too. If I am right about people reading for comfort, with 2017 likely to be worse than 2016, this can only help as bookshops
are good, homely places to get away from it all.”
Altogether 68% of respondents to The Bookseller’s Independents Christmas Trading Survey reporting a festive sales rise.