Four independent bookshops with a combined total of 175 years on the high street have announced their closure within a week, blaming their downfall on high rates, competition from internet retailers and supermarkets, e-books and a lack of support from publishers.
The Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth, founded by Winnie the Pooh author A A Milne's son Christopher Milne, said it was being forced to close after 60 years, and Derwent Bookshop in Workington, Cumbria, is to shut after 33 years. Both are the only bookshops in their towns. The iconic Travel Bookshop in Notting Hill, London, made famous by the Hugh Grant film, will close soon after 32 years of trading, and Pritchard's Bookshop in Formby, near Liverpool, will also shut after 50 years.
Each of the shops' owners said high rent and rates were the main reasons running their businesses had become unsustainable, and the death of local high streets was also a popular cause of blame for decreasing custom and falling sales. Steve Pritchard, owner of the Formby indie, said he would have appreciated more support from the Booksellers Association in helping indies to compete in selling e-books. Others called for better terms from publishers, especially in contrast to rival supermarket sellers and Amazon, which many also blamed for their closures.
Rowland Abram, co-owner of The Harbour Bookshop, said: "It is not a level playing field any more, publishers give much better terms to ‘the big boys' and we are left to make up for it. Once you account for rent and rates, competition from Amazon and supermarkets, dying passing trade, all we are left with are the dregs."
Tim Godfray, c.e.o. of the BA, said he was saddened to hear about the indie closures, adding that bookshops are one of the best routes for the recommendation and discovery of books. He said: "Evidence from the collapse of Borders UK suggests that when the high street ‘shop front' is removed, a significant number of people buy less books—and some stop buying any at all. The BA will continue to take this message to publishers [and] local and national government, making the case for the high street bookseller to be cherished."
Nik Gorecki, co-founder of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers—made up of 17 indies and due to launch in October—said: "We hope the alliance will allow us to have a collective voice, with which to better communicate with publishers, the media, and book lovers. It's really important that we make ourselves heard before it's too late. For example, the media seems happy to run features on bookshops in the last days before closure—I'm hoping that the Alliance will allows us to have a bigger presence well before those times of crisis necessitate it."
Ursula Mackenzie, c.e.o. of Little, Brown and chair of the Trade Publishers' Council said indies were an important asset for publishers and many had dedicated staff to liaise with bookshops one on one. However, she said in terms of margin negotiations, many booksellers went through wholesalers for their stock, leaving publishers "one step removed".
Mackenzie said: "I think publishers are trying to be very supportive and lots of us are trying to come up with ways to support independent booksellers. We feel we are trying very hard, because none of us want to lose booksellers on the high street."
A Bolton bookshop, Sweetens, owned by Stella Morris, shut in early August, and Maher The Bookseller, in Welwyn Garden City, owned by Tony Maher, shut in June.