Let’s hear it for the Independents

A big envelope from my publishers is always a welcome sight. It’s either a catalogue, sample covers for a new book or – twice a year – royalty statements.  I used to get proofs to correct too but these are more likely to be emailed as pdfs nowadays.

I got one such envelope this week while I was away visiting Waterloo Primary in Blackpool.  It’s a Christmas catalogue published by IndieBound, which this year features THE ORCHARD BOOK OF GRIMM’S FAIRYTALES.  Actually, it’s a bit more than a catalogue,  it’s also got seasonal recipes and a fair few competitions in it.

IndieBound is a community-oriented movement started in the US by members of the American Bookseller Association.  It aims to promote and bring together independent booksellers and other retailers with similar interests. A British chapter was begun in 2010 and there are now also branches in Australia and New Zealand.  The shops involved strive to make shopping for books an exhilarating experience.  Some of them sell coffee and food on the premises.  They organise book readings and signings, author visits, storytelling sessions, exhibitions of illustrators’ work and even themed parties.

As both an author and book buyer, I see the benefit of both chain stores like Waterstones and independents.  For a writer, having your work stocked by one of the majors is a blessing, especially if it sells enough to remain stocked for an indefinite period.  The chains also have the financial muscle to keep going in areas where it might be difficult for concerns with more limited means. And they can afford to give more generous discounts.

Salt's Mill Bookshop

The independents, on the other hand, bring a lot more to their community.  Independent Booksellers tend to be passionate about the industry.  They tailor their stock to suit the local community and can advice customers on their purchases.  Independents – not just bookshops, but any kind of establishment – create more jobs in the area, pay their staff more than chains, help keep the cash in the local economy and contribute to a vibrant High Street. According to statistics  collated in the US,  £68 of every 100 spent in an independently-owned shop stay in the local economy.  Only £43 of every 100 spent in a chain store is retained locally. Independent shop owners are also likely to donate twice as much to local charities.

My friend Jackie Morris and I share shelf space at Salts Mill Bookshop

In Saltaire where I live, we are blessed with not one but two independent book shops.  They couldn’t be more different.  The bigger one is on the second floor of Salts Mill, once a rather forbidding wool mill, now a thriving mixed retail/exhibition space which boasts the largest collection of works by David Hockney in the world.  Stepping through its door takes your breath away. It’s vast, the range of books available is a vibrant mix of best-sellers and specialist books you are unlikely to see anywhere else.  Below it, is the 1853 art shop, which also stocks an impressive range of art books.  People come here to spend money, and the bookshop gets its fair share of customers.  There’s a buzz

My friend James Mayhew's books rub shoulders with the Moomins at Salts Mill Bookshop

about the place, it’s always busy and people have been known to trek across the county just to visit the shop.

David’s Bookshop is far smaller, literally the front room of the owner’s  house on the busy Saltaire Road.

There’s always a few plastic crates filled with bargains on a battered picnic table outside the door.  Inside, it is just as rich a treasure trove of literature as Salts Mill.  David sells a mixture of new and vintage books often for a fraction of the price you would pay online. If you’re into collecting a particular genre or author, he’ll keep an eye out on stock for you, and his prices are very generous.  He also sells books on the net, which means he can post to anywhere in the world.

So, with Waterstones a stone’s throw away in Leeds and Bradford, I am well set up for bookshops.  Who knows, when I am too old to write, I might even open one myself.  Do you have any favourite bookshops I might want to visit and blog about? They could be anywhere in the UK, or even abroad.



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2 responses to “Let’s hear it for the Independents

  1. Lovely. Thanks Saviour. Good to see it out and about and Independent!

  2. Saw people leafing through both books too.

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