Britain now has fewer than 1,000 independent bookshops for the first time since records began


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The Independent Culture

The perilous state of booksellers in Britain has been highlighted in a new report that showed the total number independent bookshops has dipped below 1,000 for the first time since records began.

The Booksellers Association, which represents 95 per cent of UK booksellers, called on people to “sit up and take notice” after it released its membership figures for 2013.

The total number of independent bookshops in 2013 fell to 987, from 1028 a year earlier, although the total number of bookshops rose.

Tim Godfray, chief executive of The Booksellers Association, said bookshops “make a vital contribution to the health of our high streets and local economies in particular, so it is always disappointing to see them close.”

The association’s figures for last year revealed that 67 independent bookshops had closed, with just 26 opening during the same period.

Popular shops like children’s specialist The Lion & Unicorn Bookshop, as well as Wandsworth Bookshop and Hale Bookshop, are among the much-loved stores to have closed in 2013

Mr Godfray continued: “Everyone should sit up and take notice of this. The book trade, the government and the general public need to realise that if we don’t take action now, the future of our bookshops – and therefore the health of the publishing industry and reading itself – is at risk.”

The number of independent bookshops has dropped by more than a third since 2005, when there were 1,535.

Morag Watkins at Chorleywood Bookshop said: “It is quite tough and the figures are not a surprise. We have seen a number of bookshops close nearby.”

Bookshops have found it increasingly difficult to compete against online booksellers and supermarkets which discount heavily, and were hit by consumers tightening their belts during the recession.

“It’s not all doom and gloom though,” Ms Watkins said. “Those that have changed their models have been alright. We run festivals, go into schools and basically take the bookshop on the road. We’ve evolved into community-based hubs because we had to.”

She added that change in model was paying off as sales were up in the bookshops most recent financial year to the end of May.

The association said it was lobbying local authorities and the Government, as well as Europe to improve issues for booksellers. Issues including parking, rent, rates and corporation tax are issues consistently raised by those running the stores.

“With industry and consumer support, we will keep underlining our message: bookshops are valuable to society and our economy and are worth supporting,” Mr Godfray said.

The overall picture for the industry showed that the total number of bookshop outlets had risen from 3580 in 2012 to 3746 last year.

Last summer, Anne Sebba, the chair of the Society of Authors urged writers to give more support to independent bookshops. It came shortly after a debate at the Southbank Centre called The Perfect storm: Why Bookshops are in the Frontline in the Battle for the High Street.