Indie Bookshops: Why They are Good for Your Health and Wellbeing

Independent Bookshops Week
Category: Reading

'This coffee is very expensive! It cost me £10!' When I first heard these words across the till I was rattled and (briefly) concerned. It soon became apparent that the customer was wearing an ironic smile. He’d come in for a coffee, and left with a book he neither sought nor needed, but now, simply had to have. This is the job of a bookshop, both in terms of layout and atmosphere, but also, till-side conversations, and, nowhere more so than in an independent bookshop.

It feels rather as though we’re emerging into the light after a perfect storm of ebooks, recession and Amazon

This week almost 400 indies around the UK are celebrating the 10th Independent Bookshop Week. Speaking as one who opened in the teeth of recession in 2008, it feels rather as though we’re emerging into the light after a perfect storm of ebooks, recession and Amazon. Not that the latter, in particular, has gone away (far from it), but sales of ebooks have stabilised and there is plenty of talk of the importance of print books discovered in the physical world of bookshops. This is particularly notable in the children’s market where, against all expectations, ebooks have not taken off (73% of parents and children including teens, prefer print*), and the print market has actually increased by 7% in the past year.

All good indies will tell you they work at the heart of their local community, whether that means hosting the local book group or knitting club, running storytelling sessions or arranging numerous author events in-store. IBW is all this, but on a grand, mutually supportive, scale. As a breed, we’re good at working together – at Mainstreet, if we don’t have a book in stock and the customer needs it that day, we’ll always recommend another local bookshop, and we often work with (among others) Forum Books in Corbridge and Atkinson Pryce in Biggar to help publishers make the most of their costs by running mini tours in Scotland and the north of England.

IBW gives us all an excuse to amplify the voices of indies across the UK, both in the physical world and via social media (we’re trending on Twitter again this year). This year’s activity is spearheaded by the extraordinary 15-venue Shore to Shore Tour organised by Carol Ann Duffy along with those poets she most admires, Gillian Clarke, Imtiaz Dharker and Jackie Kay. They are travelling across the UK from Cornwall to Scotland and we’re lucky enough to be hosting them in our own Scottish Borders village of St Boswells, along with guest poet Liz Lochhead. For a full rundown of all the activity, check out

According to research, 68%** of shoppers say they prefer to discover new books in bookshops, and bookshops account for 45% of spending on books where the buyer hadn’t yet decided what book they wanted to buy (Source: Bowker March 2013). Independent bookshops are, by their very nature, all about discovery, experience and individuality, where else would you arrive in search of a biography of Churchill and leave with a book on mushrooms?   

* Nielsen 2015

** Censuswide June 2013


Love indie bookshops? Check out our favourite Edinburgh bookshops and tell us your favourite bookshops in the comments below! 

Rosamund de la Hey

Rosamund de la Hey is founder of The Main Street Trading Company in the Scottish Borders and President of the Booksellers Association.

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