Mixed picture for indies as decline slows

Mixed picture for indies as decline slows

The rate of decline of independent bookshops slowed in 2010, according to Booksellers Association numbers, despite the testing conditions on the high street and increasing competition from digital. Nearly one indie bookshop a week opened in 2010—though 72 shops closed, meaning that there has been a third consecutive year of shrinkage.

Last week The Bookseller reported that supermarkets’ share of the Nielsen BookScan market figures had increased thanks to a rise in sales of 7%, with high street and internet sales down 4%, and sales at academic and niche booksellers down 10%.
Now figures from the Booksellers Association reveal that 50 independent bookshops opened last year, 20% more than in 2009. The net figures show 22 fewer indie venues now exist across the UK altogether. However, in 2009’s net closures were 38—which suggests the rate of decline has been partially arrested.

The statistics mean 1,159 independent bookshops continue to trade in the UK, down from 1,252 last year. The stats also show that 21 bookshops left the BA owing to a “variety of reasons”—given as those whose subs lapsed, who retired, or changed the emphasis of their business.

Meryl Halls, head of membership at the BA, said: “The overall picture in terms of the number of independent booksellers in the UK is undeniably one of contraction and that’s not a fact to be celebrated. On the other hand, we have many indies holding their own on the high street, and it’s a privilege to work with those booksellers.”

One former owner of an independent bookshop that closed its doors after 112 years on the high street blamed discounting for the decline of  independepent bookshops, describing it as a “free-for-all”. Gerald Brooksbank, former owner of Reid’s bookshop in Keighley, West Yorkshire, said: “We have no support from the government in regard to price fixing —it is an issue for all. I can’t compete with the internet. We would buy a £30 book on Amazon for £13.50 and sell it for £25. I have put a brave face on it dealing with the public but inside I feel absolutely destroyed.”

However, others remained optimistic despite the challenges ahead in 2011. Sophie Greenwood, owner of Under The Greenwood Tree in Clapham, London, opened two weeks before Christmas and was confident about the outlook of the business. In the festive period her book, café and toy business took £19,000–£20,000 and in a testing January she took £12,000. “It just seemed that there was a gap in the market for a bookshop here. There is no space where I am based to bring children, sit and have a coffee and look at books,” Greenwood said. “I plan to run open events, work with the local schools, hold story-time sessions and hold customer loyalty cards to keep custom flowing.”

Halls added that the BA was “doing all we can to help booksellers build strong businesses at the centre of their communities” by working closely with the Independent Bookseller Forum and using the IndieBound brand.

Tim Godfray, chief executive of the BA, highlighted the impending launch of Google’s e-book platform, which would enable indies to take a share of the growing digital book market. “We have been greatly heartened to see how American independent bookshops have now embraced e-books since Google launched its e-books programme in the US last December. American bricks and mortar shops are delighted to be offering their customers printed, audio and electronic books.”