Readers can all agree that nothing beats a good bookshop, but do you know the differences between an independent bookshop and a chain retailer? We’ll be outlining them here, so you can decide whether you’re Team Chain or Team Indie.
The Big Bookstores: we all know them, and there is definitely lots to love about them. Bookish people will know that there are few moments more comforting than being able to dart through the familiar front doors of a bookshop that you know and love. And with 283 Waterstones stores, 530 The Works stores and numerous Foyles bookshops scattered around the UK and Ireland, we don’t usually have to look too hard to find the chain stores that deliver the goods.
Chain bookshops, such as Waterstones, often have a large floor space compared to their indie counterparts (though not all the time – Daunt Books, we’re looking at you). Waterstones Piccadilly claims to be the biggest bookshop in Europe, and with over eight miles of shelves spanning six floors, you would be hard-pressed not to find something that interests you. The multi-storey units that chains often operate within also mean that it is not uncommon to find a cosy cafe to satisfy our caffeine needs after a long day of shopping – what more could we ask for?
If books and coffee aren’t already enough to have won your heart, chain bookstores frequently host bookish events. These might include book-signings from the likes of David Attenborough, author interviews with bestselling authors such as Sally Rooney or highly anticipated book launches from huge names such as Hilary Mantel or Margaret Atwood. While book launch events are usually concentrated in London, a wide range of literary events occur in chain bookstores across the whole of the UK, so be sure to keep up to date with what’s going on in your local area.
Undoubtedly, chain bookstores have a great influence over the publishing industry due to their capacity to champion books to such a wide audience. In addition to high profile literary events, Waterstones issue their own book awards including Waterstones Book of the Year, Author of the Year and Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse was the 2019 Book of the Year winner, while Greta Thunberg claimed Author of the Year with No One is Too Small to Make a Difference. Waterstones also selects a handful of titles as their “Books of the Month” which include categories such as fiction, non-fiction, thriller, children’s, Scottish, Welsh and Irish, allowing a diverse range of books to be given the spotlight.
In times of hardship, the importance of community becomes apparent. With independent bookshops at the heart of our communities, we need them now more than ever before. Driven by the enthusiasm and passion of individual booksellers, they have always served as a haven for like-minded readers to connect and share ideas. They bring a multitude of benefits to the area, providing their customers with cultural and social services and information on local events.
Although all indie bookstores share the power to offer us an escape from our daily stresses, each one is as unique as the customers that frequent them. As shop owners are free to select the books that they actively want to sell, indies have developed their own diverse personalities, which reflect not only the interests of the booksellers but also the character of the local community. Round Table in Brixton, for example, only sells books with BAME protagonists, after research found that only 1% of the 9,000 children’s books published in the UK in 2017 featured a BAME main character. Similarly, Category Is Books, the only LGBTQ+ bookshop in Scotland, only stocks books that contain at least one LGBTQ+ character, has an LGBTQ+ narrative, or is written by a member of the LGBTQ+ community. These two stores give us a brief insight into the relevant role that independent bookstores play in promoting diversity in the industry.
While many, if not all, bookshops will offer the latest bestsellers, indies are also known for reserving space on their shelves for local writers. This gives readers the chance to discover new talent while once again proving the store’s position at the core of the community. In several cases, the support of independent bookstores has even helped to kick-start the career of new and self-published authors. And many a well-established writer supports indies by holding events and drawing crowds to the bookshops. Independent bookshops are at the heart of their communities and also the book industry.
By choosing to buy books from independent bookshops, you are supporting your area and, of course, boosting the local economy. They are also a good option for those who are attempting to shop more ethically, as buying locally comes with less packaging and less waste. So, next time you are thinking about adding to your reading pile, maybe consider a visit to your local independent bookstore.