Independent Bookstores in the UK

I didn’t mean to write about things like book sales and so on, but one thing leads to another, so here I am.

The Guardian has an article about the shape of the UK book market and the surprising health of independent bookstores. Here is a graph based on numbers taken from the article (and taken, in turn, from the consumer research group Books Marketing). Click it to see it bigger.


It shows that from 2003 to 2006 the big winners are the supermarkets and the online retailers – the twin jaws of the digital vice. No surprises there.

It also shows that the big losers are the chain bookstores (Waterstones in particular) and the direct mail book clubs. Again, no surprises.

The green line is the independent bookstores.  They are still bigger (for a few years anyway) than online retailers and have actually improved their share from 15.6 to 15.9% of the market.

There are some other statistical nuggets in the article. See if you can make sense of these:

Figures vary for the growth of book sales in Britain, but each source
points to at least small but steady growth. The Publishers Association
says that 459m books were sold in the UK in 2005, slightly fewer than
in 2004, but ahead of the three previous years. Nielsen Bookscan, which
only counts books sold at retail level (not including sales to schools
for example), says that 225m books were sold last year in Britain with
a value of £1.7bn. Nielsen draws a straight line of gains from 2001
when its records show 163m books sold with a value of £1.2bn.
Waterstone’s reckons the market is growing at a more sedate 2% a year…
If not exactly thriving, the independent book store is not in as dire
straits as many fear. According to the Booksellers Association, a trade
group for retailers, the number of independents has fallen from 1,700
in 2000 to 1,400 today. But that figure now appears to have stabilised.
There are an increasing number of small publishers targeting the
"Publishers are falling over backwards to sell to supermarkets at very
large discounts," he says. "The focus on celebrity memoirs and
potential bestsellers is relentless and the proportion of book sales by
authors in the top 50 is going up and up. The middle band of authors is
finding life increasingly tough. The spread has diminished and that
trend will continue in the short term at least as competition gets more
intense. It is having a substantial impact on what is published."

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