Notes from BRN Annual Meeting 2022

Participants: Samantha Rayner (SR); Eben Muse (EM); Meryl Halls (MH); Noel Murphy (NM); Rachel Calder (RC); Matthew Chambers (MC); Simon Eliot (SE); Audrey Laing (AE); Andrew Kamei-Dyche (AKD); Eleanor Shevlin (ES); Joe Cain (JC); Louise O’Hare (LOH); Simon Frost (SF); Will Smith (WS); Anna Muenchrath (AM); Christine D’Arpa (CDA); Corinna Norrick-Ruehl (CNR); Juan-David Murrilo (JDM); Kaja Marczewska (KM); Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen (JSN); Sofie Angharad Roberts (SAR).

Apologies: Bob Cox-Wrightson; Tamsin Roswell.

Date & Time: 21 January 2022, 3:00-5:00pm GMT

Note: Participants that want an active role in the BRN to please email what they are able to contribute to SAR. Please email cop402@bangor.ac.uk by February 7th.

Welcome and introduction

SR: The background to setting up the BRN is based on the lack of research between the book trade and academia. The network was established to create a space for those interested in bookshops, a place to share relevant information, history, and to join the dots. The BRN website is a community and information hub.

The aims of this meeting are to build the network’s aims and objectives.

EM: We have funding for four BRN sessions and some funds towards this year’s conference at Hay on Wye. These events will discuss the need of booksellers and the interests of booksellers, and bring these elements together.


Representing Bookselling in a Post Pandemic Retail Landscape

Meryl Halls (Booksellers Association of the UK and Ireland)

There is growth in the number of independent bookshops.

Bookselling is a business that has a positive cultural impact on the community and wider society – books matter and so bookshops matter.

There are several points and strategies to consider for bookselling to thrive, including a diverse ecosystem, author support, and engaged consumers. Booksellers represent passion, commitment and entrepreneurialism.

There are also disruptions, including the loss of the Net Book Agreement, the dominance of Amazon, the rise of the Ebook and audiobooks, Brexit and COVID-19.

Despite all these elements, there are over one thousand bookshops in the UK and Ireland. We are countering disruption through actions such as consumer campaigns, advocating to government, media, and trade. This is achieved by pulling together – very much like this network.

The Booksellers Association (BA) has 1,027 members, which are independent booksellers. The BA was established in 1895. The annual review is a public-facing document (see https://www.booksellers.org.uk/industryinfo/industryinfo/annualreports ).

https://uk.bookshop.org/ was established to support independent booksellers to create a fit for purpose online offer. The platform is currently used by five hundred BA members – an increase from fourteen percent to forty-eight percent during the pandemic. Work is also done to actively promote books to consumers, through campaigns such as #booksaremybag.

There is an economic impact by booksellers; booksellers are placemakers. Qualitative research and the halo effect has been undertaken by the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University and the full report will be released next week. The report will demonstrate that booksellers make a difference.

Bookselling in 2022 will reveal resilience. The UK has gained more booksellers during the pandemic, whilst many other kinds of retailers have been going into decline.


Question and Answer session.

SE – Bertram Books’ archive, does anyone know if it has been preserved?

MH – I will enquire

JC –  Could independent booksellers do more with delivery services or click and collect?

MH – There is no clear trend at the moment. There is nothing wide-scale but it does work for some.

SF –  How small are the small independent booksellers? Are they micro-businesses as indicators of a depressed economy?

MH – They are not micro businesses nor operating hand to mouth. They demonstrate robust business plans and choosing the right demographic.

LOH – Is there more detail on the landscape and what defines an independent bookseller?

MH – They are usually owner-run, with between one and five shops. The vast majority have one store.


Discussion of themes for collaborative network events

The participants worked in breakout rooms to discuss the themes for the next events.

Topics and outputs reached:

  • Archives and history
  • The benefits of bookshops – evidence and research
  • Bookshops and cultural value
  • International comparisons
  • Mail order bookselling
  • Bookshops as therapeutic spaces
  • Book infrastructure and accessibility
  • Bookshop deserts and impact
  • Understanding and communicating the values of bookshops
  • Oral histories
  • Raising the profile of bookselling
  • Modern bookselling in a historical context
  • Documenting current bookselling practice
  • Placemaking and the architecture and design of bookshops

EM: It is clear that there are three main strands that have come out of these discussions:

  • History
  • Current practice, including challenges, trainings, and international comparisons
  • Value

Can it be agreed that these will be the themes of the next meetings? The group agreed.


Discussion of the structure of the BRN

SR: If people want to take part, however big or small a contribution, please get in touch. We also need to identify steering group members.


Dates of next meeting

  • Friday 18th March 2022
  • 2pm – 3.30pm GMT, via Zoom.
  • Topic: Booksellinhg History

Agenda and speakers to be announced soon.

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