Independent booksellers say the government should step in to fix the price of books after the Booksellers Association called on the coalition to do more to maintain bookshops on the high street.
BA c.e.o. Tim Godfray appealed for help from the government and publishers this week to ensure bookshops continue to exist on Britain's high streets after the trade body's membership figures fell 20% in six years, with independent bookshop membership falling by 26% in the same timeframe.
He asked for central and local government to give business rate relief for shops with a cultural and educational value; called for cheaper parking in towns centres; and said town centre planning should be more carefully thought out to prevent community hubs from becoming ghost towns.
However, while the indies The Bookseller spoke to were in support of the BA taking a stance to help maintain high street bookselling, they said the real issue was the discounting done by chains, supermarkets and Amazon which presents the biggest threat—and called on the BA to lobby the government to do more to prevent it.
Ron John, owner of Mabecron Books in the West Country, said: "The BA is good but it could do a little bit more. There are issues about rates and parking, but in all honesty it is about pricing. Spain, Germany and Italy have rules that stop booksellers from discounting books—they go around the EU rules. I would primarily like to see the government protecting the prices of books. We should have similar European protection on prices, although rates and parking are also very important."
Nik Housman, co-founder of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers, said: "There have been small interventions by the governments in France and Germany to help protect bookselling, so if anything can be done to replicate that . . . I believe anecdotally they have had some successes."
In response, Godfray told The Bookseller: "The BA Council has taken the view up to now that there are too many hurdles to surmount for the NBA to be reintroduced. Furthermore, it has to be recognised that in the future it would be very difficult to prevent an internet bookseller from outside the European Union selling English books at a discount into a UK fixed-price market. The internet has changed the backdrop. But the BA Council will continue to keep the matter under review."
Earlier this week, Godfray said in a statement: "At a time when literacy is an issue and libraries are under threat from government cuts, we need to build a coalition of publishers, government and consumers to provide opportunities for the passionate and creative entrepreneurs who run bookshops on our high streets to thrive." The BA has issued new point-of-sale material [pictured], which it hopes will underline the importance of bricks-and-mortar bookshops.
Ursula Mackenzie, chair of the Trade Publishers Council, said publishers have enormous interest in seeing as wide a variety of bookselling outlets "as humanly possible". She said: "It is down to the publishers to supply really good books, beautifully packaged and well priced. Publishers supply the books and retailers know how best to sell them—but the more communication we have got the better."
A spokesperson for the department for communities and local government said in the next few months the government planned to give local councils power to set their own business rates and offer targeted discounts to businesses they think "deserve support".
The spokesperson added that Whitehall rules that put pressure on councils to cut the number of parking spaces and push up parking charges in town centres have now been abolished, and councils have to consider the long-term impact of new out-of-town retail developments on town centres.