Why We Need Independent Bookshops (and why we don’t need Amazon)


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Happy Independent Bookshop Week, friends! 📚 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀ ✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Visit your local indie bookshop this week for bookshop parties, excellent author events, indies exclusives, perfectly curated shelves, the best recommendations, cake (!), warmth, free @book_tokens, beach reads, tote bags, helpful advice and the most wonderful people! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨ Booksellers are our #BookshopHeroes ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Find your local independent bookshop via the link in our bio. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨✨

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So this week is Independent Bookshop Week and people over social media (in particular instagram) are sharing their favourite indie bookshops and giving book recommendations. Booksellers are also sharing their own experiences of what it means to own a bookshop and the positives and negatives that come with that. To all intents and purposes it seems that these indie bookshops are thriving, and mostly they are.  In the last couple of years, the number of indie bookshops is once again rising, and according to the Booksellers Association have grown to 883. (3) Not quite the 1,894 indies of 1995 but we are slowly getting there.

However, sadly some of the most iconic and lovely independent bookshops have still been closing down, including Wenlock Books in Shropshire, Camden lock books and Halcyon Books in Greenwich. This is sad times for book lovers who see some of their most beloved and local bookshops close. Meryl Halls, BA managing director has said of these closures that:

“It shines a light on the relentless pressures on high street bookshops and the challenges in building and maintaining a viable bookselling business,” said Halls, adding that the BA is calling for urgently required reform to a rates system “built for an analogue age and no longer fit for purpose in our digital and omni-channel era”.

“Online competition, provided by tech giants who take full advantage of a broken business taxation system, is just the start,” Halls added.(1)

Halls’ words trigger a need to look at these ‘tech giants’, in particular Amazon and the increasing urge for people to buy their books from the online site, at slashed costs. However, there was once upon a time a thing called the ‘Net Book Agreement’ in the UK and Ireland which, as Sam Jordison explained in his 2010 article in the Guardian:

“For those that don’t know, the net book agreement (NBA) was a cosy arrangement put in place in 1899 to allow publishers to set the retail price of books. The big houses agreed that they would collectively refuse to stock anyone that tried to discount – not that they had to act very often because most retailers thought that the system worked in their interest too. The restrictive practices court examined the NBA in 1962, but declared that it was certainly in the public interest because it allowed publishers to subsidise works of important – or potentially important – authors.”

“Since the NBA disappeared, 500 independent bookshops have closed. ”

“An agreement that enabled dozens of publishers to set prices for thousands of booksellers has been replaced by a system that allows two or three big organisations to dictate all. “(2)

So basically, when the Net Book agreement was taken away, it took away any rules and regulation on the price of books. Those such as Amazon and Waterstones from then on basically had a book monopoly (not the game), and this was a danger especially in terms of Amazon. It means that it can set its prices at however much it likes basically.

Lets take, for instance, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman:

On the HarperCollins website, it has the book listed at its RRP, £8.99 (4)

On the Amazon website, it has the book listed at £6.29 (5)

While most people are probably rejoicing at this news of even cheaper books, its a little worrying. The RRP price is there for a reason, in order to make sure the publishing industry is sustainable and so that a book’s price reflects its value so that the industry can continue to thrive and prosper. At the end of the day, no one is left shortchanged. The customer is happy with their new book and the publisher and everyone involved in that book has received their cut. By Amazon slashing prices, they are undervaluing these books and selling them at less than they are worth.  By people buying these books, the authors of their beloved books are being undervalued in the process. Amazon at the end of the day is just a big corporation who don’t really care. Its all money money money (oooo) and they aren’t too fussed at the people and the process that have even got the book to being published.

So please please please if you truly care about books, AVOID Amazon! Stop undervaluing these books! Shop Indie!

Another way to look at it is how cheap these books actually are at RRP price. In one of her videos, Leena Norms (who works in publishing) explains it like this:

” book for £8.99 is the most affordable ratio of time you’ll spend with a piece of entertainment to money you have given. You pay £10 to see a film now. You spend an hour and a half in the theatre. You can spend 15, 30 hours with a book for the same price”.  (6)

When you think of it in those terms, it doesn’t seem so much of a cost. A book that you can keep forever, you can continue to re-read and only at the minor cost at £8.99! That to me is quite a bargain!

So, back to the indie bookshops. As I said this week is Independent Bookshop Week. Its a time to celebrate the indie bookshop, to thank it for being there and an important part of the community. Its a time to recognise those booksellers working hard to fight against Amazon and these big corporations. These bookshops are the heart and soul of so many communities, whether they stock new or secondhand books. They are all important and they are all doing amazing work. So please take some time out of your work to pop down to one and have a gander, maybe pick up a new find.

The Booksellers Association have even got an app to help you out! Their Bookshop Search App is now available so that you can put in your postcode and find the local bookshops in your area. Easy- peasy lemo squeezy.

If you do go and visit a bookshop, just use #indiebookshopweek on your posts and share where you’ve been and what you’ve been buying! Happy shopping bookworms!

(the ba app bookshop search to find local bookshops)

(1): https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/may/30/amazon-blamed-as-iconic-bookshops-announce-closure

(2) https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2010/jun/17/net-book-agreement-publishing

(3) https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jun/16/why-indie-bookshops-feed-your-soul

(4)  https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008172145/eleanor-oliphant-is-completely-fine/

(5) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eleanor-Oliphant-Completely-Fine-Bestseller/dp/0008172145/ref=sr_1_1?crid=205737R7ABBGV&keywords=elinor+oliphant+is+completely+fine+book&qid=1561037721&s=gateway&sprefix=elinor+%2Caps%2C139&sr=8-1

(6) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9QnhlUetbo&t=544s (go to 6.25 minutes in)

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