The Fall of Independent Bookstores in the UK

Is this the final chapter?

The number of independent bookstores in the UK has been declining since 2005, when there were 1,535 independent bookstores according to the Booksellers Association. In 2014, the number of bookstores fell below 1,000 for the first time since records began. Personally, I can’t imagine not having a bookstore to kill time in. Unfortunately, high street bookstores are being heavily impacted by the opening of other high street stores, online retailers and eBooks.

Independent booksellers are suffering from rising rents. This increase in rent is particularly concerning for bookstores (as compared to other rent-paying businesses), because bookstores operate on low profits but still require vast storage space. On the other hand, high profit, low storage space businesses such as restaurants are able to manage rising rents due to the ever-popular nature of their service: food.

Furthermore, the advancement of the Internet in recent years has meant that people have the option to browse in bookstores and then buy the same books from Amazon to save some extra cash. As author David Nicholls put it, browsing bookstores and then buying the book online instead is a “genteel form of shoplifting”.

And eBooks. Don’t get me wrong; they’re great – eReaders are practical, portable, environmentally friendly and cheaper than buying a whole library of books in the long run. For a while, it seemed like eBooks and eReaders were contributing to the diminishing number of bookstores. But in recent years, bookstores have been fighting back, and it’s eBook sales that have been dropping.

Bookstores have been going beyond just selling books – they’ve begun introducing cafés, book launches, author visits, poetry readings and political discussions as ways to increase their customers. Some have even started subscription services, where customers are regularly recommended books to match their interests. And it’s not just independent bookstores that are changing to survive. Big chains like Waterstones have recognised the need to adapt their style to offer more to their customers. The idea is to enhance the experience of visiting a bookstore so that a reader can have a more enjoyable visit due to the exciting array of events that are now being hosted.

This isn’t a campaign to make you read, or a revolution against eBooks, eReaders or Amazon – I don’t want you to go and throw out your Kindle. But please explore your local bookstore. Find out what’s going on. Try not to metaphorically shoplift (I know I’m guilty of this), but instead buy some books! Books are great presents! And if you’re lucky, your bookstore might have a café – the least you can do is go and chill with a coffee and some cake.

Neha VI