The Booksellers Association (BA) in the U.K. is reporting strong holiday sales among its members, with two-thirds of nearly 100 booksellers responding to a survey reporting stronger sales than in the holiday period of 2018. Similar results were reported by indie booksellers responding to an end of season survey by The Bookseller magazine. Among the bestselling titles in the U.K. this past season were Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackey and co-Booker Prize-winners The Testaments by Margaret Atwood and Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, according to The Bookseller.
In addition to reporting strong sales, the BA reported that the overall number of bookstores in the U.K. had grown for the third year in a row, following two decades of decline. The association, which represents both independent bookstores as well as chains in the U.K. and Ireland said that by the end of 2019 the BA had 890 shops, up from 883 in 2018 and up from 868 in 2017.
Meryl Halls, managing director at the Booksellers Association, said: “It is very heartening to see the number of independent bookshops in the U.K. and Ireland grow for a third year." She then went on to temper her enthusiasm with a dose of reality. “We do however need to frame this positive growth in a wider context. Across the U.K. and Ireland, retailers still face issues around online competition and unequal business rates, all against a backdrop of uncertainty around Brexit and the economy. No high street can survive solely on bookshops; all retailers need to be supported and championed in order for the retail landscape to thrive.
Booksellers surveyed by The Bookseller were split as to whether the Brexit controversies that roiled the U.K. at the end of 2019 had an impact on sales. Nevertheless, 62% of those surveyed said economic uncertainty was the biggest threat to their business next year, with online competition (44%) coming next, followed by Brexit (36%) itself.. Still, a majority said they were optimistic going into the year.
Across the English Channel in France, the French booksellers association, known as the Syndicat de la librairie française (SLF), reported that sales for 2019 were up of 7.1% over 2018. Of the growth in 2019, 2.3% overall was due to trade book sales, with the remainder being accounted for by school textbooks, sales of which are funneled through a limited number of bookstores. The bestselling title of the year was the novel Sérotonine (Serotonin) by Michel Houellebecq.
The report takes in responses from 250 representative independent bookstores in France and Belgium, out of an estimated 3,500 stores in both countries.
The holiday season, which accounts for 15% of annual bookstore sales in France, was impacted by protests and the month of December closed down 1.3% from 2018.
Xavier Moni, president of the SLF, noted "Despite a turbulent social context which has weighed on the activity of some of our stores, especially during the holidays, the independent bookstore is doing better. . . with growth far superior to that of the French economy." After praising the work of booksellers he expressed confidence going into the new year. "Bookstore are unique and irreplaceable. I have the conviction that we will continue to attract new readers [in 2020]."