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For the Love of Bookshops

Like many of you, I find the lure of a nice bookshop irresistible. The display in the window, the hushed atmosphere and unique smell as you enter this world of possibilities and the unbridled pleasure of meandering along the shelves. They feel like sanctuaries.


My sister and I used to go through a ritual every Christmas when she asked what I would like as a gift and my reply was, “a book token please”. She would then groan about how unoriginal I was and it wouldn’t be mentioned again for another year. Until the year I explained what bookshops really were for me.


Bookshops are beacons of hope. They are currently holding their own in one of the most difficult trading periods of modern times. Footfall in High Street booksellers is going up. Waterstones is recording profits for the first time in a decade and book sales are up generally, (interestingly, ebook sales have plateaued). There has been an explosion of independent/self-publishing that has seen the largest growth in debut authors for a generation.


Bookshops are the thing that keeps High Streets from being completely homogenised with the usual suspects of retail chains. For book lovers, they provide a grand day out! Armed with their book token gifts they can spend a whole day browsing shelves, reading covers, pages or whole chapters as they seek out their next treasure or adventure. It is a type of escapism in it's purest form!


Books are classed as “low ticket” items (relatively cheap), so they tend to fare better during hard times. Certainly that has been the case during lockdown. There is also a new phenomenon emerging; a sense that bookshops are providing something beyond simple transactions. Pre-lockdown, they were providing a tactile experience that Amazon cannot. Some of them provide excellent coffee. Many provide author meet and greets, book signings, reading groups, handwritten reviews and recommendations.

Most importantly, owners of independent bookshops pay their taxes, they are part of the community they are situated in and they can help to regenerate a retail area.


After lockdown we need to demonstrate our support for all local retailers who have stuck it out and survived the devastating effects of the pandemic restrictions. By consolidating our support for bookshops we can help them thrive in what is likely to be a tumultuous recovery period in 2021.


Amazon’s market share will continue to grow as it keeps slashing book prices in the hope that consumers will choose price over anything (and some will). In 2017 the number of independent bookshops in the UK grew by one, to 868. It was a tiny growth, but the first increase in twenty years (in which more than 1,000 independent bookshops disappeared). That crash began in 1995, the same year Amazon was born.


What is important when thinking about the health of the industry is that no matter how cheap books are, there won’t be a significant demand for them unless people have the time and desire to read. Two lockdown periods and Covid regulations have changed the way in which we socialise in the last 12 months. We have suddenly found that many of us have more time to read. It has been a joyful distraction when there has been precious little of that around. Let’s not lose that when the world returns to a new normal. Let us protect that dedicated, reading for pleasure time time many have discovered.


And where you can, for the love of bookshops, let’s support our local retailers!

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