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Independent booksellers on both sides of the Atlantic fared better in 2020 than many expected, with the majority of UK indies reporting a rise in figures on 2019. Indies in the US have been praised by Beth Ineson, executive director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association, for “taking everything that 2020 threw at you – and you’re still standing”.
More than half the UK independents polled by the Bookseller magazine reported Christmas trading ahead of Christmas 2019 – this despite a lost final few days trading due to the lockdown. Factors that seemed to help were customers buying more on single trips because they were reducing the amount of time spent shopping, and the arrival of Bookshop.org which provides a platform for indies to host their websites. Bookshop.org gives indies 30% of the cover price of titles sold through their storefronts and it is estimated that participating bookshops earned an average of £1647 through Bookshop.org during Christmas 2020.
Some UK indies also believe that customers are realising the importance of independents to their communities. Peter Donaldson of Red Lion Books in Colchester said: “More people are waking up to the realisation that the simple fact of choosing where and how they shop can have enormous repercussions for the world they live in — the health of the local economy and the strength of the local community. More people are guided by these issues and less by looking for the cheapest price.”
In the US Ineson continued her praise for independents by saying:: “What you all accomplished last year was nothing short of incredible. From the business model pivot to the crash course in public health statutes to the alphabet soup of government loans and grants, uour creativity, innovation, and grit were awe inspiring.”
Among the star performers among US independents was Point Reyes Books in Point Reyes Station California. It reported sales up by 12 to 15% on December 2019 and described the holiday season as “remarkably successful”.
Ineson concluded with cautious optimism saying: “While circumstances are still hugely challenging, with the arrival of the new year (and the vaccine) there’s a sense that we can at least start to think about what it might mean to possibly, maybe, exhale. To think about gathering in person again. To think about moving our businesses forward instead of feeling like we’re swimming as fast as we can just to keep our heads above water.”