There’s a programme currently on weekly on BBC2 entitled Mary Queen of Shops (a bit of a guilty pleasure, I must admit), featuring the feisty, straight-talking – and at times rather annoying – retail guru Mary Portas. It’s her job to put the pizzazz and profit into failing shops. The current series places particular focus on independent retailers, places with strong traditions and once considered to be pillars of the community, such as the local grocer or baker, which are now suffering at the hands of bigger businesses.
Hearing about the tussle between the David of independent shops versus the Goliath of the chain-stores and supermarkets is nothing surprising; over the last couple of years the media has often informed us of independents’ being stamped upon by the bigger guys and we’ve been urged to forgo the one-stop, ultra convenience of the two storey hypermarket in town for the local butcher or fruit and veg shop just down the road. Yet its not as commonplace to hear about the same fate befalling the bookselling business. Unfortunately independent bookstores, the fairly new and those that have been trading for decades, are fighting for survival, having to wage war with the thriving online booksellers and the mighty Waterstones, which appears to be monopolising the book market. Not to mention the fact that the high street hasn’t had things easy, with Borders disappearing at the end of last year.
But the independents aren’t admitting defeat. Rather than opting to call on Ms Portas to give them a makeover with high gloss shelves and snazzy signs, the industry held the third annual Independent Booksellers Week in order to promote and honour local and independent bookshops around the country. 250 shops nationwide took part in the week-long celebration, which ran from 14th to 21st June, running various in-shop events (including a Where’s Wally fancy dress competition) and special appearances from a star-studded array of authors.
Even though Independent Booksellers Week has been and gone, there is one big event still to come – the Independent Booksellers Book Prize. Featuring awards for both adult and children’s titles, the books on the shortlist were selected by a judging panel of independent booksellers. Good friend of The Reader Organisation Frank Cottrell Boyce has been nominated in the children’s category for Cosmic (there’s also a film adaptation of the book in the pipeline). You can vote for your favourite books from the list at your local independent bookshop – you can find out which bookshops near you are participating with the Independent Booksellers Book prize here – until 30th August. The winners will be announced in September.
And there are plenty of reasons to let the love for the independents continue beyond Independent Booksellers Week. They play a big part in helping to discover and promote up and coming authors and are often the best place to go if you want to broaden your personal reading horizons, offering something different from the latest mainstream blockbuster gracing every other shop shelf. Many independent retailers are also vital for the local community, bringing literary events to the people, tailoring their stock to suit its needs and offering more than just a fantastic range of reading material.
Why not tell us about the best bookshop you know or the favourite independents you frequent? There must be lots of hidden gems waiting to be discovered…