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Indie Bookstores an Endangered Species in the UK

There is data to show indie bookstores making a comeback in the US (for certain meanings of the words "indie" and "bookstore") but the news isn’t so upbeat in the UK.

According to The Bookseller:

The number of independent bookshops in the UK has fallen for the 11th year in a row, according to the Booksellers Association’s annual membership figures, but the rate of closure has slowed.

Indie bookshop numbers have almost halved in the past 11 years, according to the figures: in 2005 there were 1,535 independents and in 2017 there were 867, down from 894 in 2016. Thirty-two independents closed in 2016 and a further 16 did not renew their BA membership. However, 21 new indies opened, bringing the year’s net loss to 27.

A cocktail of pressures are responsible for the closure of indie bookshops, including rising business rates and rent (recently cited as the reason for the closure of The Theatre Bookshop in central London, which said its rent had risen 200%), competition from e-books and online retailers, and the rising popularity of other entertainment forms, such as Netflix and gaming.

In citing membership count, The Bookseller is relying on data which is as flawed as the ABA’s membership count would be in the US. To put it simply, not all bookstores are members of their respective national bookstore associations, and not all association members are bookstores.

So we can’t trust the data, but the fact remains that there is a general sense that bookstores are growing in number in the US while declining in number in the UK (I have noted this trend once or twice).

But is that trend accurate? The UK data is coming from  the Booksellers Association, after all; what if that data actually reflects booksellers deciding that the BA’s dues aren’t worth it?

image by Nina A.J

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