The Booksellers' Association has struck an optimistic note with members in its newsletter and review of 2016 ahead of Christmas, predicting a possibility of more bookshop openings than closures in 2017.
In the same message last year, Godfray called the decline in independent bookshop numbers - down 31 bookshops in the first 11 months of 2015 - "deeply depressing", pointing to competition from Amazon and business rates as the main culprits. The rate of decline had however been slowing; in 2014, nearly 50 independent bookshops closed, and in 2013 numbers plummeted below 1,000 for the first time since records began, at which time twice as many bookshops closed down as new ones opened.
This year Godfray predicted the "possibility" of more openings than closures in the year ahead, adding: " If we can achieve this, we will create a win win for booksellers, publishers and authors. We hope publishers can think of ways to encourage especially new bookshop openings."
He said he was "optimistic" for 2017, although he predicted the year wouldn't be easy, commenting: "There will be lots of uncertainties next year, particularly caused by the Brexit discussions." But, he said: "The graph for booksellers is starting to move up, after a very difficult period."
Godfray said he was "hugely heartened" to see consumers appearing to be coming back to the printed book and to bookshops.
"Being a forecaster seems to be even tougher than being a bookseller these days! Thank heavens so many of the former were wide of the mark when predicting the death of the physical bookshop and the demise of the printed book," he said. "I know that there are a few more critical days to go before the year-end, but I have been hugely heartened by the anecdotal sales’ reports from our members in the UK and Ireland. Consumers do appear to be coming back to the printed book and to bookshops."
Godfray attributed the "improved climate" to the way in which publishers and booksellers had reacted to the changes in the marketplace. Publishers had upped their game on quality, said Godfray, who went on to draw attention to exemplary co-operation within the trade. James Patterson received a special name-check for his "amazing" support of independent bookshops, after he donated more than £500,000 in 2016 for new projects, renovations and storytelling corners to help boost reading. Industry collaborations on book promotions, like World Book Day, Books Are My Bag (and the Readers’ Awards), Independent Bookshop Week, Academic Book Week and the new Parliamentary Book Awards, were also highlighted, alongside BA initiatives, such as its personalised book tokens, its e-book platform, The iNDIEeBOOKSHOP (indieebook.co.uk), and its batch service enabling retailers to view invoices and pay their UK publishers electronically.
The BA has upped its lobbying activities, in Brussels, in London, the devolved Governments, and in Dublin, according to Godfray, whose other hopes outlined for 2017 include government intervention to improve the competitive climate and further business rate reductions. To realise these objectives, Godfray promised the BA will continue making representations to competition authorities - to "put right some of the wrongs of the past, and to discourage market domination and monopolies" - and to try to win further concessions to address the "still huge imbalances and unfair arrangements with the Business Rates’ system"; Godfray called the shake-up to business rates earlier this year, giving 100% rates’ relief to all properties with a rateable value below £12,000, "a great coup" for the BA, after its efforts lobbying government on the issue.
He concluded: "Three cheers for our members, who have worked so hard. But they have been helped by very many publishers and authors. I hope that you can look back and take the view that you too have had a good year."