The number of independent bookshops increases year on year as reported in today’s Bookseller. What a fantastic headline for everyone involved in the book industry to see. And one that should be celebrated because, for far too long, the demise of independent bookshops had been the story. It is also heartening to see that Waterstones are reporting a strong 2018.

brooks pinnerA bookshop like Brooks in Pinner, that opened in August 2018, is a fantastic example of how future bookshops can thrive at the heart of an area. By creating their bookshop as a destination, it appeals to a broad range of customers. Whether wanting to buy a book or to meet with friends for coffee or a glass of wine, the local people of Pinner now have an alternative to the local coffee shop/pub.

The Mainstreet Trading Company in Boswell, set up over 10 years ago, has created the ultimate destination bookshop with people travelling hundreds of miles to shop there.

The Stripey Badger Bookshop, in the village of Grassington, is another brilliant example of opening in tandem with a coffee shop. By providing the area with the two new shops they have created a destination for locals and visitors alike. Forum Books relocation to a former chapel was inspiring and now allows them to offer over 10,000 titles for their forum bookshopcustomer to browse through. And if that’s not enough encouragement they have silent book discos at the weekend with playlists put together by authors visiting for events

The more you offer the consumer the more appealing your shop will be them. It’s a question of choosing the right match for your community whether that be bookshop centred reading groups, incorporating an art gallery, as Caxton Books in Frinton have done, or run a film club. Storytellers Inc when faced with the challenge of a dramatic downturn in footfall, following the closure of the town’s department store, set up an impressive choice and range of book groups.

Bookshop events are a wonderful way to increase the profile of your bookshop in your area, bringing customers into the bookshop, reminding them of your location and offering them an experience that online retailers cannot.

Independent bookshops have the unique opportunity to offer customers the books that they’ve personally read and loved. It is possible to browse, and shop, in independent bookshops located close to each other and find a totally different selection of great reads.  Many independent bookshops work closely with smaller publishers to provide a variety of great reads that are often not on display in the larger chains. When I was in bookselling, we had a whole bay dedicated to smaller independent publishers such as Galley Press, Pushkin, Persephone Books, And Other Stories, Salt Publishing to name a few. The beauty about being an independent bookshop is that you choose the books you want to stock and the publishers you deal with, so you can offer your customers books they may find nowhere else.

15 new bookshops opened in 2018 and I wonder how many publishers have been to visit them, talk to them and have plans to work with them in 2019… Every time a new bookshop opens publishers should be beating a path to their door, this is a new opportunity to get your books in front of book buyers.

Retail in 2019 will prove challenging. Online shopping in both the UK and Ireland is rising at a frightening and dramatic pace. As reported in an article in the Irish Independent by Adrian Weckler PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 67pc of Irish consumers now shop on Amazon. That is a staggering statistic but even more significant statistic is this one: 18pc of Irish shoppers say that they shop less often at other retail stores as a result of Amazon. Read his full article here.

The battle has not yet been lost to online retailers. Surveys show that people like to shop in real shops, they like to go to bookshops for recommendations, they like the interaction with booksellers and they enjoy browsing. In a recent BA survey, 63.5% of booksellers reported that customer numbers rose this Christmas compared with 2017 which is hugely encouraging. The challenge is to keep your bookshop in the eye of your customer base to ensure that they think of buying their books from you and nowhere else.

Two years of modest growth of independent bookshops are just young shoots that need careful tending and will require continuing hard work, on everyone’s part, to continue that growth. Publishers have an opportunity to improve their relationships with bookshops, to work more closely with bookshops and support them in their aims to put a wider variety of books in front of the consumer.

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