The Booksellers Association of the United Kingdom & Ireland Limited

Independent Bookshop Numbers Reveal Mixed Picture in Continuing High Street Challenge

05/01/2024
The number of independent bookshops opening in 2023 surpassed the same measure last year, with 51 indies – as well as several branches of Waterstones, Eason and Dubray – opening during the year, compared to 49 indies opening in 2022.
 
In a development characterised by the Booksellers Association (BA) as a continuing vote of confidence in bookselling as a career, and the underlying importance and health of the sector, the number of openings continues to bring new entrants into bookselling across the UK and Ireland.
 
However, in a more sobering turn of events, the number of indie bookshop closures has increased on 2022, leading to a situation where the net number of indies in the  UK has fallen by 0.8%.
 
The BA – which represents independent, chain (WH Smith, Waterstones, Blackwell’s and Foyles, and Eason and Dubray in Ireland) and non-traditional booksellers across the UK and Ireland – released the figures as part of its annual membership survey, which revealed that the number of independent bookshops in BA membership at the end of 2023 was 1063, down from 1072 in 2022, though still significantly up from the lowest point on record of 867 in 2016.
 
New independent bookshops which opened in 2023 include:
 
  • Barn Owl Books, Wiltshire
  • Booka Bookshop, Shropshire (Bridgnorth)
  • Book-ish, Wales (Abergavenny)
  • Caper, Oxfordshire
  • Clemo Books, Cornwall
  • Gay on Wye, Powys, Wales
  • Kilmainham Gaol Books and Gifts, Dublin, Ireland
  • Melanin Dreams, London
  • Oughterard Bookshop, County Galway, Ireland
  • Rossiter Books, Worcestershire (Malvern)
  • Sherlock & Pages, Somerset
  • Suddenly on Sheaf Street, Northamptonshire
  • the book-ends, Shropshire
  • The Kitchen Table, Dorset
  • The Literature Laboratory, Powys, Wales
  • The Little Bookshop Skipton, North Yorkshire
  • The Wedale Bookshop, Scottish Borders, Scotland
  • The Wee Bookshop, Clackmannanshire, Scotland
 
Meryl Halls, Managing Director at the Booksellers Association, which represents chain and indie bookshops alike, said: “We are sad, but not surprised, to see the numbers of indie bookshops drop this year, for the first time in several years. It’s been a volatile year for openings and closures, with some shops coming to the end of leases, some having opened during Covid and not thrived. Other closures are caused by retirement, rent or rate increases – and in such a low margin business as bookselling, small shifts in the costs of running the business can have catastrophic effects on viability.
 
The BA exists to create a positive landscape for bookselling to thrive, and to equip and encourage booksellers to professionalise, learn from each other, share good practice and run excellent community hubs. Many hundreds of indie bookshops are doing that every day, across the UK and Ireland, in addition to  branches of Waterstones, Foyles, Blackwell’s, Eason, Dubray and WHSmith, and we do not want to see any dilution in the unique and exceptional character that a bookshop brings to the high street or town centre.
 
While the number of bookshops has grown gradually since 2016, drawn by the cultural relevance of books, reading and bookshops, and inspired by the activism on display amongst current booksellers, we knew that recession, inflation, labour shortages, massive cost increases, tight margins, the cost-of-living crisis and unequal tax burdens such as business rates, would take their toll.
 
We will continue our advocacy on behalf of bookshops and bookselling, lobbying government on crucial business supports we know are required, and talking in depth to trade and industry partners about how to maximise the number of bookshops on our high streets, and how to support their viability and capacity to extend and expand, which many are already doing.”