By Charlotte Brook
Whilst many industries were badly affected by the pandemic, the book trade defied the odds and reached new heights. After the industry’s sixth consecutive year of growth, there are now 1,072 independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland. When the pandemic drove us into our homes and we hid from the world, it seems many people found solace in the alternative realities of books.
Encouraged by this new-found love of literature, a total of forty-five new indie bookshops sprung up around the UK in 2022. Compared to the vast decline in the decade before the pandemic, where the number of independent bookshops dropped from 1,894 to 867 between 1995 and 2016, this ten-year high is significant. Plus, according to a report by the Centre for Retail Research, forty-seven shops closed on average per day in 2022, totalling 17,145. So, this really is a triumph for indies.
It represents a shift away from buying books through corporate multinationals like Amazon, a company which profited hugely off the back of the pandemic, towards support for small businesses amongst the bookish community. Meryl Hall, Managing Director of the Booksellers Association (BA), says that this increase “confirms that bookshops are crucially important – and valued – parts of our high street communities,” as quoted in The Guardian.
Some of the independent bookshops that opened their doors in 2022 include Afrori Books, Brighton’s first Black-owned bookshop, who also launched the first year of the Brighton Book Festival in partnership with Brighton’s The Feminist Bookshop. Another indie to join the ranks is Rare Birds Books in Edinburgh – a small business that started as a book subscription service championing women’s fiction.
Some bookshops were also prevented from having to close by crowdfunding pages such as New Beacon Books in Finsbury Park. On 29 December, it sadly announced that financial pressures were forcing its closure and just days later £50,000 was raised to help it move to new premises.
This revival doesn’t mean that indies are no longer vulnerable. As with all small businesses, the UK’s on-going cost-of-living crisis and looming recession are definitely a cause for concern. However, what it does show is the huge strength of support for independent bookshops and how rallying together in our love of books can overcome even the most troubling times.