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A novel trend: independent bookshop total hits 10-year high

2-minute read

Independent bookshop in the UK
Conor Shilling

Conor Shilling

18 January 2023

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The number of independent bookshops reached a 10-year high last year, according to the Booksellers Association (BA).

Read on to find out why indie bookshops are thriving against a backdrop of struggling high streets, plus how TikTok is influencing the next generation of book buyers.

Bookshops buck the trend with strong high street performance

BA’s data shows that the number of independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland was 1,072 at the end of 2022.

This is the highest in 10 years and marks a sixth consecutive year of growth. Before this resurgence the number of bookshops decreased steadily between 1996 and 2016, hitting a low of 867.

The impressive performance of independent bookshops comes against a backdrop of struggling UK high streets that have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis.

An average of 47 shops closed every day last year, according to the Centre for Retail Research. The study found that 11,090 independent shops closed for good last year.

Why did the number of independent bookshops rise in 2022?

It’s been suggested that the bookselling industry benefited from Covid-19 lockdowns as people had more time to read and discover new books.

As a result, many people visited independent bookshops when they reopened as restrictions eased.

According to Meryl Halls, Managing Director at the Booksellers Association, there was an ‘astonishing’ number of new entrants to bookselling during the pandemic.

She said that other reasons for the surge in bookshop popularity include:

  • activism amongst booksellers
  • the cultural relevance of books and reading
  • bookselling being seen as a valid and rewarding career choice

Halls added: “Bookshops bring social and cultural capital to every town, village, suburb or city centre they are part of, and punch way about their weight in terms of impact and engagement locally, and nationally.

“What is particularly pleasing in the indie numbers is to be able to welcome a new cohort of booksellers to the industry; those with fresh eyes, new perspectives, energy and a commitment to the cultural contribution of bookselling to our society and our economy.

“This new energy is so important to the future viability and diversity of our sector.”

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Is ‘BookTok’ helping indie bookshops to thrive?

Another trend that's been credited with helping the popularity of bookshops to surge is ‘BookTok’.

BookTok is a sub-community on TikTok where users create videos about the books they’re reading.

‘#BookTok’ has over 60 billion views on TikTok and creators in the community are known as ‘BookTokers’.

According to Bookscan, 2.9 million physical copies of books that included BookTok or TikTok in their description were sold in the first five months of 2022.

Not only are bestseller lists now full of books that have gone viral on TikTok, but bookshops and publishers are creating dedicated areas of their stores and websites for books made popular by BookTok.

Independent booksellers reveal cost of living crisis concerns

Despite last year’s strong performance, independent bookshops are worried about the year ahead.

In an annual survey by the Bookseller, shop owners said they were worried about the impact of the cost of living crisis on the viability of their businesses and customer spending.

Meryl Halls added: “With the economic headwinds coming our way, recession, inflation, labour shortages and massive cost increases across the board, bookshops need support.

“Margins are extremely tight, and for bookshops to thrive on high streets they need governments to take action to protect small businesses from the cost of living crisis, as well as unequal tax burdens such as business rates.”

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Conor Shilling

Written by

Conor Shilling

Conor Shilling is a professional writer with over 10 years’ experience across the property, small business, and insurance sectors. A trained journalist, Conor’s previous experience includes writing for several leading online property trade publications. Conor has worked at Simply Business as a Copywriter for three years, specialising in the buy-to-let market, landlords, and small business finance.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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