Book sales figures speak volumes

David Ford, owner of Saltaire Books. Picture by Simon Hulme
David Ford, owner of Saltaire Books. Picture by Simon Hulme
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THE next time you have a bad day at the office, spare a thought for bookshop owners like David Ford.

Last Thursday was a low point for his Saltaire Bookshop as he took just £7.50 all day, selling two second-hand children’s books about ponies and a French dictionary.

The day before that, takings were £13.20 and Friday hit £20.

Undaunted, he decided to fight back by posting details of the takings on the shop’s Facebook page which resulted in a bumper £300 in sales on Saturday.

Such is his passion for books he has no plans to go the same way as many other independent Yorkshire bookshops which have closed.

He has heard predictions before of the demise of books and bookshop but is determined to remain open.

“Now, we have to be a lot cleverer about how we sell books. We sell online and we use social media and do all sorts to survive.

“There is something wonderful and unique about books and I’m certain they will never go away. We want to get people into books but this won’t happen unless bookshops are there.”

Mr Ford, who is the chairman of the Saltaire traders association, says other traders in the village have struggled as a result of roadworks to create a new roundabout.

“We are all taking small amounts of money. People have the idea that shopkeepers are wealthy but costs are high.”

The Saltaire Bookshop survives because he cut overheads by moving from rented premises into a property he owns in Myrtle Place.

“I can keep going,” he says. “This shop is not going to disappear, far from it. It’s about being clever to survive.”

Sadly, the number of bookshops across Yorkshire has fallen sharply and the number continues to shrink in the face of online competition and the rise of e-readers.

At the weekend the Barbican bookshop in York closed after more than half a century and a shop in Garforth, near Leeds, ceased trading recently after 25 years, citing online competition.

At The Children’s Bookshop in Lindley, Huddersfield, proprietor Sonia Benster is “cautiously positive” about the future, having seen trade hit “rock bottom”.

“We are not at rock bottom now – we are chugging along and waiting for the green shoots. It’s not doom and gloom but until I see interest from the buying public I have to be supremely cautious.”

Mrs Benster, whose customers visit from across the North, has been running the Lindley shop for 39 years.

In another 12 months, she may decide to sell up.

“I think 40 years could be my time to move on. I want the shop to continue and for the public to come and support us.”

Lisa Campbell, a journalist at trade magazine The Bookseller, says independent booksellers are fighting their corner, despite being squeezed by online retailers and increases in rent and business rates.

“Holding events such as author signings, book group sessions and poetry readings are key to their sustainability in their local communities, as is offering expert knowledge on books and recommendations, which their competition in the form of Tesco or Amazon can’t do,” she said.

“They rely on customer loyalty to continue to thrive and many work very hard on this aspect and do buck the trend for independent booksellers when they get this right.”

But figures for shop closures do not make good reading.

About a third of independent bookshops have closed in the last seven years. The most recent figures have shown that in 2012, 73 independent bookshops closed and 29 opened, taking the overall tally to 1,028 in the UK, according to membership figures from the Booksellers Association.

On a positive note, a survey by The Bookseller showed almost half of sellers report a rise in sales.

A backlash against big companies which pay little corporation tax, coupled with renewed interest in independent retailing may have helped.

Many independent stores have reported customers valuing their insight, knowledge and advice on books, which is often where they have the edge over competitors.

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