Hard year for indies as numbers dwindle

<p>Independents had a difficult 2008 with more than one shop closing a week amid tough trading conditions, figures from the Booksellers Association have revealed.</p><p>There are 17 fewer independents trading this year compared to last, with 83 stores closing and 66 opening throughout the year. This is the biggest decline in numbers since 2006 when almost 100 shops closed.</p><p>The most recent data is in contrast to the optimistic note struck in 2007 when 81 stores opened&mdash;the largest number of new independents opening in the three years before that.</p><p>Analyst Robert Clark from the Retail Knowledge Bank said: &ldquo;Bookshops have been one of the more persistent independent sectors but nevertheless last year&rsquo;s economic conditions were such that one would have expected a drop in numbers. However, the fall is perhaps lower than expected.&rdquo; </p><p>Clark added that the increased competition between large chains could leave more space for nimble independent bookshops to thrive. He said: &ldquo;It may be worse this year for independents but I would never think that we will see the end of the independent bookstore.&rdquo;</p><p>Meryl Halls, head of membership services at the Booksellers Association, said the number of closures last year was &ldquo;sadly inevitable but modest&rdquo;. She added: &ldquo;We are delighted to see that people are still being drawn to the independent bookselling sector. </p><p>&quot;There is huge energy in this sector which ranges from the classic and well-established businesses to new-wave indie booksellers; united in their philosophy of being extremely customer-focused and committed to running lean and effective businesses that are at the heart of their communities.&rdquo;</p><p>Gary Kingdon took over Badger Books in Burnley, Lancashire, last year and described trading as &ldquo;difficult&rdquo;. He said: &ldquo;The bigger stores seem to sell on lower margin and high quantities to get customers in store. It&rsquo;s harder for us to keep customers happy as we can&rsquo;t always discount.&rdquo;</p><p>Several high-profile closures of independent bookshops hit the headlines in 2008, with many blaming increasing competition online and from supermarkets. Grindley Books in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, closed after 61 years trading in January. The Pan Bookshop, West London, also closed that month, citing tough market conditions and high rents for its closure.</p>