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Remember the last time you visited your local bookshop? If not, continue reading

As part of the build-up to Independent Booksellers’ Week (29th June – 6th July), Kate Mosse shared her passion for ‘old-fashioned bookshops’ with readers of the Metro yesterday.

She mentioned the particular vulnerability of independent bookshops who are less able to compete on price. I recently visited Whitby Bookshop (two floors of a Georgian townhouse situated on a cobbled street in the Old Town) where I was able to buy Richard Greene’s biography of Edith Sitwell for £4.99 (RRP £12.99) and The Letters of Nancy Mitford, also priced at £4.99 (RRP £9.99) both of which, since I had no idea I needed until I started browsing, I probably wouldn’t have discovered on-line. Although the shopper in me loves a bargain, I must admit that I had mixed feelings about paying a price that I know wouldn’t cover the manufacturing costs. I spoke to the manager who explained that they are able to discount 80% of their stock by buying books that have been returned by other stores that would otherwise be pulped.

But it is not only the pricing war that is leading to bookshop closures. Yesterday I was saddened to learn that Richmond’s specialist children’s bookseller and former winner of the independent bookshop of the year award, Lion and Unicorn, has been driven out by rising rent and rates. (My favourite restaurant in Richmond suffered a similar fate.) If we want our high streets (and, in the case of Richmond, its quaint cobbled lanes) to retain diversity and individuality, concessions need to be made.

The French government has pledged 9m Euros to help booksellers fight back against what it calls the ‘destroyer of bookshops.’ (French law also caps the maximum discount that can be offered on the RRP of books at 5%, but booksellers still find it hard to compete because on-line retailers offer free delivery.) Amazon were named as the main villain and yet, yesterday I found my latest paperback release, published via Amazon’s Createspace, offered for sale from Barnes and Noble for $3 less. 

According to the Guardian, approximately one third of independent booksellers have closed since 2005, bringing the total number of UK bookshops to 1,028. We need to ask ourselves what we want our high streets to look like in another 8 years’ time. Waiting and seeing is simply not going to work. 

Over the next week there will be a number of initiatives, including National Reading Group Day which takes place on 29th June. Why not commit yourself to a visit to your local independent bookshop and experience the joy of discovering something that you didn’t know you needed. 

Interestingly, despite its healthy tourist trade, the independent retailers of Whitby have launched their own initiative urging all adults living in the vicinity to consider spending £5 per week, whether in a pub, a deli or a bookshop, in order to plough money back into the local community. Having done the maths they had worked out that it is this level of spending that will make all the difference.