At the Booksellers Association (BA), we were thrilled to be able to share the good news at the start of 2023 that in our indie sector, independent bookshop numbers are now at a ten-year high in the U.K., with independent bookshops growing in number for the seventh consecutive year to 1,072 shops, up from 867 at their lowest point in 2016.
Against a backdrop of rising costs, economic and political uncertainty, and ongoing challenges for high street retailers, it was a fantastic way to start the year. It is a deeply encouraging sign that the public’s desire for physical bookshops in their communities is stronger than ever, and the fact that booksellers have been able to meet this desire despite such a challenging retail landscape is testament to a great deal of hard work, and the talents and resilience of booksellers small and large.
Last year we had a particularly high number of new bookshops opening, and it’s great to see new entrepreneurs entering the market. The bookselling workforce is a dynamic and highly skilled cohort with a passion for serving their local communities, and their work is absolutely vital to the health of the entire book trade.
In seeking to understand the bookselling workforce, and as part of the Booksellers Association’s long-term commitment to making bookselling, and the wider book, media, and creative industries more inclusive and representative, in February 2023 we released our inaugural Workforce Survey. We were encouraged to see that there are many areas in which booksellers over-index compared with the national population–including LGTBQ, and those with long-term health conditions.
The results indicated that for many demographics, bookselling is a safe space. However, in other areas, it is clear there is a long road ahead, particularly in the representation of booksellers from ethnic minority groups. The BA is working closely with our member booksellers, as well as our partners across the industry–at the Publishers Association, Society of Authors, and Association of Authors Agents, among many others–to ensure a more inclusive future for the book world. We are also working with our Equality and Inclusion Action Group of BA members to formulate a practical action plan for booksellers, ranging from employment and staffing, through stock and sourcing, to community engagement.
We know too that learning from and working alongside our international colleagues will be vital in this process, and we are delighted to be working closely with the European and International Booksellers Federation as part of their RISE Bookselling (Resilience, Innovation and Sustainability for the Enhancement of Bookselling) program, where BA members have been able to apply for a three-day working exchange to a bookshop in another country, allowing them to share best practice and learn the practicalities of the book industry in their host country.
In the same spirit, a crucial addition to the BA’s portfolio of member-service provision is the development of BA Learning, our professional development tool. BA Learning comprises a wide-ranging online Skills Hub, BA Mentoring, BA Coaching, and our BA Welcome program for those planning to enter bookselling, or recently embarked on that journey, including a training course and starter guide, plus work experience and consultancy.
Likewise, the London Book Fair is a fantastic opportunity to meet and share knowledge with our international colleagues. The Booksellers Association Group, which is made up of the Booksellers Association, National Book Tokens, and Batch, will continue to have a strong presence at the fair this year.
In addition to a program of seminars and events for bookshops from the BA Group, Batch will be sharing a preview of the newly updated BatchLine platform. In the most significant update to BatchLine (formerly Bertline) in a number of years, the platform now has a new look, and new technology that brings it fully up-to-date with the 21st century. The improved system is designed to offer a single platform where booksellers can run their bookshop.
We welcome the opportunity at LBF to meet our U.K. and international colleagues.