As hinted at by Booksellers Association (BA) executive chairman Tim Godfray in his Christmas message, the number of independent bookshops in BA membership in the U.K. and Ireland has grown for the second year in a row. The growth follows more than 20 years of decline in the sector. (Godfray hints at 2019 upturn)

The BA figures are the second piece of positive book trade news in the U.K. 2019, following Nielsen's report that print book sales had risen for the fourth year in a row (Print book sales up again in 2018).

The number of independent bookshops in BA membership in 2018 grew to 883, up from 868 in 2017. The figure in 1995 was 1,894.

Members of the association seem largely to have avoided the downturn in Christmas sales reported by retailers in other sectors. Responding to the BA's Christmas trading survey, 73% of booksellers said that their Christmas sales were up on 2017, and 63.5% reported that foot traffic was up.

Meryl Halls, BA managing director , said: "It is extremely encouraging to see independent bookshops succeeding in 2018, demonstrating the creativity and entrepreneurship of booksellers in the face of difficult challenges. We are delighted for - and proud of - our incredibly hard-working booksellers. We do, though, also need to consider these figures in a wider context.

"Retailers generally are facing an increasingly challenging landscape across the U.K. and Ireland, and we all need the retail landscape to be strong," Hall said.

"Bookshops (especially our larger members) continue to experience unequal business rates, and struggle alongside wider retail with unfair competition from online retailers, as well as post-Brexit uncertainty. In light of this, we ask the Government to take the steps needed to protect the future of bookshops and their high streets, considering the concerns of retailers and booksellers so they can both flourish."

A longer version of this story appeared in BookBrunch.