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5 Easy Ways to Support Independent Bookshops


Five easy ways to support your independent bookshops – and why you should

A little over a decade ago, the number of independent bookshops in the UK fell below 1,000 for the first time as a combination of Amazon, e-books and High Street rent increases put them out of business. That figure fell to less than 900 in 2016 when the future of these remaining bookstores, and of British publishing more generally, was said to be at genuine risk. Fast forward to January this year when the number of independent bookstores across the UK and Ireland reportedly reached their highest point since 2012. According to figures released by the Booksellers Association, there were 1,072 independent members, up from the low point of 867 in 2016.

It was a plot twist that no one saw coming but one we must do everything in our power to protect.

Indie bookstores might be safe, for now at least, but things aren’t so rosy for the High Street which, to put it plainly, is in dire crisis. Online shopping, retail parks and the cost of living are reducing footfall in towns and cities across the country. Many were already struggling because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

So let’s be frank: independent bookstores may be experiencing a resurgence but their future is by no means secure. A quick search on X (formerly known as Twitter) will show you how many indie bookstores are still on their knees and living hand to mouth. So here’s five easy ways to support independent bookstores to ensure they not only survive, but thrive.

#1: Word of Mouth Marketing

While some indie bookstores are clearly flourishing, many others are still struggling to keep their heads above water. Those in this position don’t have the time, manpower or resources to promote themselves online, and are risk of sinking forever.

You can throw them a lifeline by becoming their online champion. Use your social media accounts to SHOUT about them online. And if you don’t use social media, do it the old-fashioned way: spread the actual word (you know, by speaking to people like they did in the past).

People tend to trust the opinions of those they follow online, as well as the recommendations of their friends, family, and peers. So when customers personally endorse a bookstore to others, it can be a potent and organic form of promotion.

Whichever way you do it, championing your local bookstore online will cost you nothing but your support could prove invaluable.

#2: Tell Your Local Media

While spreading the word about your local bookstore through word-of-mouth marketing is certainly effective, taking it a step further by reaching out to local media could help even more. If your local bookstore is doing something seriously amazing, or if it’s seriously struggling, consider speaking to your local newspaper or radio station and giving them the details. Objectively speaking, one or both scenarios make for a good story and the chances are that a reporter would cover it.

Regional media coverage would shine a spotlight on the bookshop and reach a broad and engaged local audience. Be sure to explain why the media outlet should cover the story: is the bookshop a local institution or based in an iconic building? Perhaps it’s diversified and is doing something unique to generate more revenue, or is hosting a local author for a book signing event of some kind. Or maybe the background of the owner(s) is a colourful/inspirational one that needs telling.

#3: Shop Local

If there’s something an indie bookseller likes more than anything else, it’s footfall. Indie bookstores are run by people who adore books and booklovers in equal measure. Most relish the opportunity to meet the local community and to welcome fellow bookworms through their doors. The simple act of popping in, browsing the displays (which, by the way, take an absolute age to set up) and saying ‘hi’ will be appreciated, trust me.

In fact, what an indie bookseller really likes more than anything else is sales – and it’s here you can help the most. If every booklover were to spend a few pounds-a-month in their local bookstore, the future of every bookshop in Britain would be secure forever. So consider buying from your nearby bookstore, rather than from one of the online behemoths, next time you need a book. Most will happily post a copy out if you can’t make it in person to the store.

Remember that buying local doesn’t mean you can’t buy local online, too. If you can’t make it to your local bookshop in person then check if they have a website – most will – and shop on that, instead.

#4: Buy Secondhand

A large online auction site (which shall remain nameless) sells millions of used books, often for a song, each year. But if you’re anything like me, a bricks and mortar bookstore packed with used books – ideally in as random order as you can imagine – is as close to heaven as you can get. Rarely will I leave such a place without spending money and leaving with a pile of weird and wonderful titles under my arm.

The majority of British indie bookshops sell used books as either a part or the whole of their business. With a typical gross profit of between 75% and 80% on each book sold, used titles represent a solid source of revenue.

So if you can’t afford to buy a new paperback or hardcover from an indie bookstore on a regular basis, consider spending a couple of pounds on a used item instead.

#5: Volunteer

At the risk of sounding overly – hopelessly – romantic, volunteering at your local bookstore can be one of the most fulfilling and rewarding things a booklover can ever do. You’ll be surrounded by new books and will get to see (and catch a sneaky peak inside) all the latest releases as they come in. You’ll likely meet local authors and publishers. And you’ll probably get a staff discount on any purchases. If you’re an author looking to better understand the publishing industry, or someone who wants to work in it, volunteering at a local bookstore will broaden your knowledge considerably. And, let’s face it, you’ll be the most well-read member of your book club.

Volunteering at an independent bookshop is a mutually beneficial arrangement. The bookstore gains valuable assistance in crucial areas such as creating displays, organising bookshelves, managing tills, handling social media, coordinating events, and liaising with salespeople. By offering your support, you contribute to the bookstore’s operational needs without impacting its financial bottom line since you’re volunteering your time and skills.

Image courtesy Pexels

However positive the headlines may be, supporting your independent local bookstores should be considered a priority and every book lover’s long-term commitment.

– A summary

Steven Monaghan of Palamedes PR, the book PR and marketing agency

Steven Monahan

Steven blogs about PR and marketing, books and, occasionally, boxing. He has been known to play the harmonica with his nose.

Book Marketing Services UK

Palamedes is one of the UK’s longest-established specialist book marketing agencies. Since 2009, we’ve been engaged by some of the world’s biggest publishers and authors to promote books in the media. If you’re looking for author marketing services UK, give us a call and we can talk you through your options with a free 30-minute consultation with one of our British book publicists.

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