Bookshop demise – a global problem

A huge amount of our country’s classic bookstores have been closed forever. There are cities without a bookstore. …we risk having a youth that does not read at all.

Which country do you think the speaker is describing in this comment?

The UK perhaps? Figures released by the Booksellers Association in February showed that last year the number of outlets fall below 1,000. More than 60 bookshops closed in 2014 leaving just 987 across the country compared to 1,535 in 2005, prompting a warning by the Association that the situation had reached crisis point for independent retailers.

Or perhaps it was the USA? The American Booksellers Association (ABA) announced at BEA (Book Expo America) last year that the number of independent bookstores had halved in the last twenty years. However publishers had noticed a bit of a resurgence after years of decline that 2,000 independent bookstores now exist nationally, the highest number since 2005. Twenty years ago, there were twice as many independent bookstores, but after several years of decline the trade group is pointing to a resurgence.

Maybe the country in question is Australia?. This is the country where government minister Nick Sherry predicted in 2011 that bookstores would be extinct by 2016. One hopes that he was rather more successful as a small business minister prediction than he was as a predictor of the future given that the Australian Booksellers Association say claims of death for the bookshop have been greatly exaggerated and many independent and chain stores continue to thrive.

I will give you three clues to the identity of the country.

1. We’re talking about a geography that ranks at number nine in the world In terms of population ( estimated to be 142million)

2. This country has produced five Nobel laureates in literature.

3. 2015 has been designated as this country’s Year of Literature

Still not found an answer?. Let me take the pressure off for you by revealing that this is a comment relating to the state of the book industry in Russia.

The idea behind Russia’s Year of Literature is to to stimulate reading in the country. Yet local commentators say their book industry is facing its toughest test in decades with some cities not able to sustain even a single book store.  Moscow has between 400 and 500 outlets which is 11 times less than London which has a significantly lower population.

The high cost of books is one factor, another is the rental price of retail space according to the article in  Publishing Perspectives,.  The current rouble crisis isn’t going to help as local citizens deal with rising prices for the basics like food.   Interestingly the writers don’t make any reference to the role of e-reading or the competition from on line outlets which are challenging shops in other parts of the world. Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea after all to give all users of the Moscow underground free access to e-versions of Russian classics?

Leading authors say the industry will have to change and stores become more of a cultural hub rather than reliant on simply selling books. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Bookshops in UK and USA started experimenting by selling stationery and gifts then branched into on site coffee shops. Maybe the Russians can come up with something more exciting.   Caviar and Chekhov anyone?


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

15 thoughts on “Bookshop demise – a global problem

  • Oh no, it was have to be cavier and vodka! 😉 Seriously though, it is sad news. I am happy to report, however, that the Twin Cities boasts a quite a few independent bookstores and one of them opened only about two years ago. I haven’t heard of any independents closing here lately but there are three Barnes and Noble locations that closed a couple months ago.

    • Now you’re talking. Last time I was in Moscow a colleague took me for dinner and proceeded to order a flask of neat vodka which was served with a plate of herbs and some smoked salmon. I couldn’t believe it the next day when I woke with a completely clear head. he told me the secret is the purity of the vodka

      • I’ve heard that about vodka too but always thought it was a myth. I never drink enough to find out the truth of it!

  • Quote of the US-ambassador in South Africa (Twitter) after a visit to our bookshop: “I miss this book culture in my home town New York” . According to the latest statistics the online sales of Kindle etc. are stabilising. See also new fantastic bookshops establishing in Europe that offer customers an experience; each in their own right. As for our own little town in South Africa: 3 bookshops each with an own identity and doing well.

    • I had an enjoyable time visiting Hermanus a few years ago – pity I didnt see the shops then (too busy being mesmerised by the whales unfortunately). Good to know they are thriving though

  • Fascinating and it’s sad how often so many of the stores are forced to close everywhere due to a combination of lack of patrons AND rent. Even some of the stores here who have strong patronage can’t keep their doors open because of rent prices.

    • i don’t know what the situation is in Boston Geoff but here, many of the stores in town centres (not just book shops) are closing because they can’t compete with the out of town big stores. Then all that happens is the empty shop gets rented at lower cost to charity stores.

  • I have to add that this idea of book stores being a cultural hub is an old one, and not something I favor. What happens is that what were fine book stores start selling CDs, DVDs, perfumes, and jewelry and all that is left of books are the bestsellers and genre novels. That’s the situation here in India, and it sucks. Thank goodness for second hand book stores, libraries, and online book sellers.

    • It hasn’t got quite that bad here though I noticed the Barnes and Noble stores I visited in USA had a higher proportion of gifts than equivalent chains here in UK. To be fair I think the people who suggest cultural centres are thinking beyond just selling items and how they can use the shops for more events.

  • I wonder if it is the lack of popular young Russian novelists to stimulate book buying? I am not very knowledgeable about Russian lit, but it seems the only Russian novels that I hear or read about are by long-dead authors.

    • My knowledge is poor also Nish so I have no idea. I have to believe there are some contemporary writers though

  • We’re getting a Foyles in Birmingham later in the year, and whilst I’m excited, i’m also a little worried in that it will be situated very close to the two Waterstones we have (one of which is in a converted bank, about 150 years old).

    I have too many books already, and need to get rid of some before picking more up, so cant support them too much that way. But I hope there will be other things I can do to support them – e.g. I hope both Foyles and Waterstones have plenty of events (e.g. book club meetings, author talks and signings etc). A few years ago Waterstones took part in the Guardian First Book Long list decider and I think it would be great if something similar could happen again!

  • Although I meet precious few people who read literary books in my real life (I guess I don’t travel in the right circles), we have a couple of wonderful little indie shops that are thriving. They also engage with the local arts community which helps. Our major big box chain (Chapters/Indigo) is actually not bad either. Sometimes e-books or on-line is the only option I have but I find myself moving back more toward paper books, especially small publishers. I am hoping if I take a book off a shelf and buy it, the shop will think to replace it but that is not always the case.

  • It’s sad to think this is a world-wide problem. Hopefully diversifying will secure a future for bookshops wherever it’s a problem – as for Russia I’d suggest ‘Vodka and Vasily Grossman!’

  • We’ve all seen giants pop up and swallow small bookshops only to see those giants collapse a few years later.

    Russia: I have a friend who buys books (classics) in Russian for the kindle and they are ridiculously cheap.


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