A new study, Booksellers As Placemakers, commissioned by the Booksellers Association, shows that over 90% of booksellers work actively to support local priorities, such as place marketing, walkability, provision of recreational and cultural spaces, and maintaining economic attractive town and city centres.

The new report, Booksellers As Placemakers, was authored by the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University and analysed feedback from 205 bookshops based across the UK.

Key findings from the research showed that 92% of bookshops contributed to the local non-retail offer such as events and festivals, 99% to the economic attractiveness of their town centres, 98% to ‘place-marketing’ of their towns, and 96% to the ‘liveability’ of their towns, while 77% were proactively involved in networks and partnerships with local councils, and 70% helped to remove barriers to entry for new businesses in the area.

In the first project of its kind in the UK, the project team conducted surveys and interviews with over 200 individual booksellers to understand the ways their businesses contribute to the health and vitality of the high street. The report found that bookseller contributions include improvements to the general appearance of towns, the marketing efforts of the high streets, and the organisation of events and festivals. None of the booksellers included in the research engaged with fewer than 12 of the 25 Priorities for Vitality and Viability identified by the Institute of Place Management; the majority engaged with 22. Interviews and survey responses identified ways that booksellers actively contribute to all the priorities, ranging from supporting local schools and churches to providing a helping hand to residents and collaborative place-marketing.

In an introduction to the report, Meryl Halls praises the research for identifying the value of the bookshop to the high street:

“The fate of bookshops and the high streets they occupy is symbiotic and entwined. We know now how the leadership shown by bookshops can be a crucial difference in the life of that community.”

Another bookseller, quoted in the report, describes this relationship between bookshop and town:

[…] it is very clear that the town is benefiting from having an independent bookshop and that I am seeing people coming from other areas to visit the bookshop and then continuing their visit to the town, browsing in the other independent shops and eating in the cafes and restaurants.

Another interviewee suggested one of the innovative and fun ways that bookshops contribute to the pleasure of a visit to the town:

“We occasionally like to hide books around town to give something back to our customers and visitors to the town.”

Overall, the results found that characteristics generally demonstrated by booksellers included:

  • Passionate & energetic
  • Resourceful & adaptable
  • Full of ideas and willing to try them
  • Forward- and outward-looking
  • Natural exemplars of best practice

The results suggest that booksellers provide a positive model for community-based businesses that other retailers might be encouraged to adopt. The report also calls for more grass-roots participation in local policy-making and place leadership; in the words of one bookseller, “Perhaps more support for local, grass-roots ideas and less emphasis on the “big” ideas and “strategies.”

By Sofie Roberts

Sofie Roberts, Graduate Assistant for the BRN. Sofie is a final year PhD student at Bangor University, researching indigenous Welsh Cinema, and has a First-Class Honours undergraduate degree in English Literature with Film Studies gained at Bangor University. Sofie has nine years' experience working in academic institutions in roles involving working closely with businesses, networks, and industry. Sofie is from the foothills of Snowdonia and is a first language Welsh speaker.