Why we need to support independent bookshops

Rowan Cothliff

Across the UK, from quaint little towns to the roaring major cities, booklovers can find the hidden gem that is an independent bookshop. Unlike Waterstones, predominantly these shops sell second-hand and potentially rare books that will fill the nation’s selective bookcases.

Unfortunately, with the rise of mainstream bookshops who sell a plethora of freshly printed novels and non-fiction, our local independents are facing a decline from the competition between new and old. Now don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy walking into Waterstones, smelling that fresh off the press aroma, ready to pick my new read, as I’m sure many avid readers will. However, we are perhaps being ignorant to the fact that our local independents are losing our trade, whilst also not noticing our tendency to prefer new over second-hand.

So, why is it so important to keep the independent bookshop alive? Well firstly, as a generation that is hopefully becoming more and more inclined to a sustainable way of living, it is simply better for our environment. In fact, as of 2016 12% of the green-house gas emitted into the atmosphere was due to deforestation, with more than 10% of deforestation being a result of the paper industry. If we reuse and re-purchase a second-hand book, we are reducing the need for new ones, certainly the classics, to be made. For readers like me who don’t like to read a book from a screen, this is a great alternative for reading more sustainably. The only time we cannot avoid buying new is when a book has just been published for the first time.

Many will house extremely old versions of books that could be a valuable piece of history

Another reason is that they have an important heritage. The majority of these local independent shops are likely to have been running for decades, as a result of dedicated owners. Many will house extremely old versions of books that could be a valuable piece of history to add to your collection, which have been carefully looked after in order to stay in such good condition. 

The people who run these treasures are not some million pound company, but locals who are trying to make a living off of something they love. You are supporting an individual’s income and passion, through simply purchasing your next read from them. 

They can even be significantly cheaper for your bank account, exceptions made for books that are on the rarer side. A new hardback from Waterstones is likely to cost you around £20, while your local independent may be able to offer you a second-hand version for a lot less. There are around an estimated 890 independent bookshops in the UK in total, while for example, there are only 283 Waterstones shops in Europe altogether; if anything the local independent is more readily available than the mainstream, when you want to visit in store.

There is a good chance that many will have to close

All of this leads us onto the question of whether our local independents are going to survive the current pandemic? If we don’t make our best efforts to try and support them now, there is a good chance that many will have to close due to an immense loss of sales from when shops were locked down, along with the effects of a decrease in visits from their regulars during lockdown. There is also the impending recession that we are beginning to see the effects of more and more, taking its toll on such places. In order to keep these bookshops, as well as small businesses in general, afloat, we must choose them more often than we used to. 

Let’s give back to our local independent bookshops with the same passion they have for providing us with books and hope they’ll still be around for many years to come.

Rowan Cothliff

Article images courtesy of @leenanorms and @word_on_the_water via 

Featured image courtesy of Susan Smith via

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