Booksellers Association sees highest membership since records began

The Booksellers Association (BA) now has its largest membership since records began with over 5,000 members.

Retail chain Marks & Spencer joined the trade body last year, boosting its overall membership by 300 stores to 5,029 – the highest it has been since records began 22 years ago in 1995.

At the same time, the trade body confirmed that the number of independent bookshops grew for the first time last year. Altogether 39 indies opened in 2017 and 25 closed (with 13 not renewing membership), bringing the overall number of indies in the UK and Ireland to 868 – one more than a year earlier.

Despite the positive news for brick and mortar bookshops, incoming BA managing director Meryl Halls warned that the number of indies has plummeted by nearly 1,000 – more than half – in the last 22 years and said there was still “much work to be done by the government” to support bookshops and ensure they continue to flourish.

“This year’s BA membership figures are very encouraging. Not only have independent bookshop numbers stabilised, but membership numbers in general have continued to grow, with more bookshops in BA membership than ever before,” said Halls. “We sincerely hope that the 2017 figures are a sign of things to come for the bookselling sector. However, we must state in the strongest terms that there is still much to be done by the government to support bookshops and enable them to flourish in today’s competitive market. Today we have 868 independent bookshops in membership. In 1995, the year when the Net Book Agreement ended, we had 1894.”

She added: “The BA will be continuing to lobby the government around issues such as unequal bookshops rates, unfair competition, and beyond, in 2018.”

Among the indies to open in 2017 are Imagined Things in Harrogate, The Highland Bookshop in Fort William, Chapters of Stafford in Staffordshire, BH6 in Bournemouth and Plox Books in London.

The news comes as The Bookseller unveils the 39 indie bookshops vying to be crowned Independent Bookshop of the Year at the British Book Awards, with many acheiving doudle-digit sales rises last year, beating the overall market trend.

The Bookselling Britain report commissioned by the BA last year found that bookshops contribute £1.9bn to the UK economy every year, and pay 11 times more corporation tax than Amazon, support 46,000 jobs, and contribute £415m in wages and staff costs, according to the research. UK bookshops also pay £131m in tax (including £12m in corporation tax), equating to 91p per £100 of turnover, which is 11 times the amount of tax paid by online retailer Amazon, which contributes 8p per £100 of turnover.

Produced by the Centre for Economics & Business Research (CEBR), the report also calculated that BA members’ direct turnover was £1.33bn for the 2015/16 financial year, 1% up on 2014, after two years of decline and a fall since 2010 of £200m. The South-east region contributes the highest revenue to the bookselling sector: £187m in 2015, some 23% more than the second highest region, London (£152m), while Northern Ireland generates the least turnover, £36m a year, with the North East producing £51m and Wales third from bottom on £68m.

Article by Lisa Campbell

Originally published in The Bookseller Feb. 2018

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