Their revival was welcomed when the winners of the independent bookshop of the year were announced on the day, with the Edinburgh bookshop becoming the first in Scotland – he won for the fifth time since opening 10 years ago.
The British Book Awards, sponsored by book wholesaler Gardners, recognize bookshops that support their local communities through bespoke sales and bespoke initiatives.
Tom Tivnan, Editor-in-Chief of The Bookseller and Chair of the Independent Bookstore of the Year judging panel, said: “The independent bookshop has emerged from the other side of the pandemic at its healthiest point in decades.
“Through the line is innovation, as all the winners experimented with new ways to expand their business to get books into the hands of more readers.
“Sometimes it’s leveraged with new technology, sometimes it’s just plain old bookselling, but whatever tools they use, it’s backed by a personal approach that trumps an algorithm.
“What’s really pleasing is that it’s consistent with everything, not just new stores, but concerns that have been trading successfully for decades.”
The Edinburgh bookshop is a Scottish winner for the fifth time, adding Children’s Bookseller of the Year 2014 to its trophy haul. Owner Marie Moser said: “Our sector was the first to suffer when Amazon started selling books online, but in recent years new independent bookshops have emerged “.
Moser attributes the success of his bookstore and other Indian businesses to knowing what customers want and the personal approach of knowledgeable staff who can recommend books for all ages and stages.
“There are nine independents in town, and we all do things differently. We have a special interest in children’s books and are well aware that many children and adults feel that bookshops are not for them. Everyone is welcome here, we have a storytime for children under five, book clubs for adults and children, as well as two or three author events a month.
“After the pandemic, people started appreciating what’s available in their region, and we pretty much became a neighborhood bookstore. As well as Booker Prize winners, we have a section of well-written novels, so we cater for all tastes. We offer our customers a balanced diet of ice cream and cakes, as well as greens.’
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The success of booksellers is reflected in figures from the Association of Booksellers, which found that the number of independent bookshops in its stock in the UK and Ireland rose for the sixth consecutive year, marking a decade of growth after more than 20 years of decline. There were 1,072 independent candidates by the end of 2022, up from 1,027 in 2021 and a low of 867 in 2016.
Meryl Halls, managing director of the Booksellers Association, said: “We are delighted to see the continued increase in the number of independent bookshops on our high streets. Given the expansion of the Waterstones estate last year, this news confirms that bookshops are very important and valuable parts of our high street communities.
“Bookstores bring social and cultural capital to every city, village, suburb or city center. We want the number of bookstores to continue to increase.
“What’s especially nice about indie numbers is the opportunity to welcome a new cohort of booksellers to the industry; those with fresh eyes, new perspectives, energy and commitment to the cultural contribution of the book trade to our society and economy.
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“During the pandemic, we have seen a truly staggering number of new entrants to the book trade.
“Inspired by the cultural significance of books, reading and bookstores, inspired by the activism of current booksellers, seeing bookselling as a career with a career—these are all reasons why people open bookstores, and we want each of them to succeed.
“However, with economic hardship, recession, inflation, labor shortages and huge price increases across the board, we must continue to support our bookstores. The book trade is not easy, and the profitability is very small and hard won. Our challenge now is to ensure that this figure stabilizes and that the industry, governments and consumers know what is at stake as we fight for the survival of bookshops.”
Nine winners are now competing for the overall award of Independent Bookstore of the Year, which will be announced on May 15. The Independent Bookstore of the Year winner will also compete for Retailer of the Year.