Independent bookshops continue to disappear from high street

The Booksellers Association last week released its annual membership figures, and they made for grim reading for lovers of independent bookshops: for the sixth year running, the total number of indies on the UK high street remained in decline.

Though thirty-nine shops opened across the country throughout 2012, those new arrivals were offset by the closure of a further seventy-three – a net loss of thirty-four shops. That leaves 1,028 in total (at least of those registered as members of the Booksellers Association, which is undoubtedly a large majority). As The Bookseller points out, that means a loss of a full third of independent bookshops in the UK since 2005, which saw 1,535 in existence. On average, that works out at a little over seventy-two fewer independent booksellers in existence for every year of that period – a trend which it seems 2013 will do little to reverse, with eleven shops already pencilled for closure before the April rise of business rates.

Tim Godfrey, chief executive of the Booksellers Association, said of the figures: ‘Closures are always painful and we were saddened to see many bookshops closing last year. The balance of risk in bookselling has changed for good, and now sits disproportionately with the bookseller. We are committed to helping booksellers work closely with publishers to explore new business models to ensure that bookshops continue to have a lively presence on our high streets’

On a mildly more optimistic note, the number of children’s bookshops held steady, with no closures at all in 2012. The value of the children’s print book market actually rose – admittedly, only by 0.02%, but even that marginal increase is a step in the right direction. The Bookseller even quotes Sheridan Swinson, who owns a children’s bookshop in Shropshire, as suggesting that it is currently ‘a golden age’ for children’s books. Sounds like a cue for a song.