Indies continue to decline on high street

Indies continue to decline on high street

Booksellers Association chief executive Tim Godfray has renewed calls for publishers to "seriously consider" their business models to support independent bookshops as their numbers continued to decline in 2011.

Casualties included Dartmouth's Harbour bookshop, opened by A A Milne's son, which closed after 60 years, Bookthrift in Southwold, Derwent Bookshop in Workington, Cumbria, and Pritchard's Bookshop in Formby, near Liverpool.

The BA membership records also indicate that bookshop closures are not being offset by new openings, with the figure showing the lowest number of new bookshops for several years. Those to open included the Monmouth Bookshop in Wales, which opened in December, and Belgravia Books in London's Notting Hill, owned by publisher Gallic Books.

There are now 1,094 independent bookshops trading on the high street that are BA members, a net decline of 65 in 2011 from 2010's tally of 1,159. Over the year, 73 bookshops closed, which is only one more than in 2010 when 72 closed. The rate of bookshops opening has also declined year-on-year, with only 36 opening in 2011 compared to 50 in 2010, and 40 in 2009.

According to Godfray, most indie closures took place in the first half of year, with the majority of new openings in the second half of 2011. "Our latest BA membership numbers confirm a continued reduction in the number of bookshops on Britain's high streets and campuses‚ a cause for real concern and something which we urge publishers to consider very seriously and address when formulating their business plans," he said.

"Though it was gratifying to see an increase in openings in the latter part of past year, the competition from the internet and the arrival of e-books are putting pressures on high street and campus bookshops never before experienced."

According to Nielsen BookScan, printed book sales are at their lowest level for nine years, with few indies able to benefit from the take-up of digital reading. However, Nic Bottomley, owner of Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, said he thought the net decline in numbers was more likely to be down to the recession. "We have had some sad closures, like the Dartmouth bookshop. I don't think that closed because of the rise in e-book sales. It's more likely because people aren't travelling to that part of the country and more people are going online to buy and sell books," he said. He added that high rent and business rates were also a heavy burden on booksellers.