What does the future hold for the bookshop?

In less than two weeks, the Independent Booksellers Association will meet in Warwick to discuss the independent bookshop and the role it has in the British book industry.

In less than two weeks, the Independent Booksellers Association will meet in Warwick to discuss the independent bookshop and the role it has in the British book industry. The debate takes place as the state of the industry faces questions with the rise of e-books and recent calls from experts in the book trade for independent booksellers to do more to stand out.

In comments made during the Great Bookshop Debate, part of Independent Booksellers Week in London last July, Nicholas Lovell, a writer and digital consultant, remarking in a report from the BBC, said more must be done.

“The future of independent bookshops is not about selling books,” Lovell said. “They’ll do it by selling to people the ‘idea’ of being a reader.”

Sarah Rees, the owner of Cover to Cover in Swansea in Wales, says hand selling is the key to independent bookselling, adding that you have to know the author and the genre.

‘Becoming a rarity’

Rees, who founded Cover to Cover in 1999 after working in publishing in London for 20 years, however says the issue is not down to e-books.

“It’s more price driven,” Rees said in a telephone interview, noting the dissolution of the Net Book Agreement in 1997, which then opened up competition to places including Amazon. “Some are in market town areas, which are supporting [their] local community. I’m outside of a previously industrialized city centre, with lots of unemployment.”

Rees says however that Cover to Cover attracts many visitors to Swansea, particularly during the summer holidays.

“We have lots of visitors because we’re near a lovely coastal area,” Rees said. “We have a lot of visitors who may not have a local bookshop on their doorstep. They come in and buy a load of books, while some locals just buy a couple. They like to browse.”

Rees also sells non-book items, including stationery and children’s toys. However, her focus is still on books, something that independent bookshops need to emphasise.

“It is important to perceive yourself first and foremost as a bookshop – that is what you are standing up for,” Rees said. “You are here to sell books and showcase books and new authors.”

Rees says that publishers can do more to help independent bookshops, from extra editions to events with authors, to exclusives before internet availability and distribution. Rees however says independent bookshops are not being taken for granted, but they are becoming rarities in the UK.

Hopefully optimistic

However, Rees says she does not want customers to feel sorry for the state of the book trade.

“There are so few of us now – we are becoming a rarity,” Rees said. “There is a growing sense of support in what we’re doing.”

Indeed, as technology changes, this may affect the love and perception of books, particularly in the younger generation, who have easy access to more screens and more gadgets and mobile technology.

“Printed books will become more expensive,” Rees said. “I would hope the love of books continue, but as the young people get used to all things digital, it will be challenging.”

Rees adds that books might become luxuries, but she hopes that is not the case.

As booksellers prepare to meet in Warwick, these questions will likely be at the centre of discussion, as there is a consensus amongst bookshop owners in the UK, including Rees.

“I’d like to be optimistic for long term,” Rees said. “I would like to continue doing what I’m doing.”

What do you think? What does the future hold for the independent bookshop? Have your say in the comments section below.

Image: Tony Corsini / Wikimedia Commons