What is the future of the independent bookshop?

Much consternation has been expressed recently about the future of the independent bookshop. With rising rents and parking charges, many modest former staples of the high street are struggling to survive. For bookshops in particular there are the additional challenges from increased demand for digital and large online retailers.  According to figures released by the Booksellers Association, there are now fewer than 1000 independent bookshops remaining. This is depressing news indeed.

During a discussion broadcast on Radio 4 earlier this month, the CEO of Harper Collins, Victoria Barnsley, suggested that bookshops charge for the privilege of browsing and that bookshops become more of a ‘club’. Her fellow industry professionals agreed that the future of the bricks and mortar bookshops would undoubtedly depend on their ability to adapt and create a unique cultural experience.  I would have to agree.

Independents will have to alter their business models to really build on their strengths and compete in a changing climate. So, how can a small business adapt?

1.Identify what the needs of consumers are

The sole raison d’être of bookshops is no longer just to sell books in much the same way that coffee chain retailers are not just about coffee.  Starbucks and similar outlets provide internet access, reading material (newspapers, magazines) and create an ambience in which people want to relax with friends. I think what still draws people to bookshops is the chance to discover new titles that may be on display or a new author, information by way of reviews and recommendations and there is an element of escape involved too i.e. a place to sit and browse in comfort

2. Monetise consumer requirements

Bookshops allow consumers to browse and receive recommendations for free and this practice adds considerable weight to the suggestion advanced by Barnsley in the Radio 4 debate. In other words, charging a fee to consumers to avail themselves of all that bookshops have to offer (and possibly more interactive services) may ensure their survival.

3. Offer unique experiences

It is important to offer something which cannot be provided by Amazon or online digital bookstores. This may include creating different environments within a store that are appropriate to the genre or events such as cookery lessons or talks given  by leading academics on a wide range of topics. It may mean providing additional services such as childcare whilst you browse or making an area suitable for exhibiting art work.

To conclude, bookshops are worth saving. They are incredibly important hubs of information, allowing interests to develop and offer the chance to escape for a while from the fast paced lifestyles many of us live.

To find about more about how you can support independent bookshops, visit: http://www.booksaremybag.com/

The Bookseller Association have produced a statement in support of bookshops: