The Booksellers Association of the United Kingdom & Ireland Limited

New research finds bookshops lead the way in contributing to successful high streets and describes important ‘halo effect’ for their communities

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.

Professor Cathy Parker, co-chair of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “This is the first time research of this nature has ever been undertaken. Whilst shops and services make up the high street, until now nobody has asked exactly how their businesses contribute to the health of the high street. It’s been taken for granted that they do – but this research shows just how much bookstores do to make high streets vital and viable.”

Researchers conducted a survey and spoke in-depth with booksellers, before comparing booksellers’ activity to 25 established priorities for high street vitality and viability. All bookshops were observed to contribute to the range, quality, purpose, and diversity of their location. However, many went even further, delivering a number of wider benefits to high streets.

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.

Interviews conducted as part of the study found a number of examples of bookshops contributing to their communities beyond their retail function, with booksellers donating laptops to local schools, taking part in local beautification projects, promoting other local businesses through social media, and engaging with vulnerable groups in the community.

77% of all booksellers were found to have contributed to 20 or more of the 25 priorities for successful high streets, demonstrating the outsize impact bookselling has on UK retail and the role that bookshops play in their wider communities.

The Booksellers Association Managing Director, Meryl Halls, commented: “We are delighted to be able to share this unique and innovative report. We’ve always known that booksellers punch above their weight, and working with the Institute of Place Management has allowed us to quantify the scope and impact of the trade’s activity.

“COVID has drastically altered the retail landscape, creating new challenges and compounding issues already facing our high streets pre-pandemic.   We know now how the leadership shown by bookshops can make a crucial difference to their communities, and we applaud our members for the work they do – and encourage and inspire even more retailers to do the same.”

Andy Rossiter, Booksellers Association President, and owner of three bookshops in Monmouth, Ross on Wye and Leominster, said: “Living and working as a bookseller through this pandemic has been one of the most intense experiences of our careers, and I am incredibly proud to reconfirm what I already knew, which is that my fellow booksellers are net contributors to the health of our high streets, as well as to our economic, cultural and social lives.  We want booksellers to take confidence and pride in this report, and to shout from the rooftops in their own places how brilliant they are.”

Commenting on the report’s conclusion, IPM researchers said: “The study provided the foundation to create a working assessment of the characteristics generally demonstrated by booksellers. They are passionate & energetic; resourceful & adaptable; full of ideas and willing to try them; forward and outward looking; and natural exemplars of best-practice.”

The report was commissioned by the BA as a key part of its lobbying and campaigning work for 2022, as booksellers look ahead to navigate a post-pandemic high street and retail landscape.

A successor and partner piece to the BA’s 2017 Economic Impact Report from Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), Booksellers As Placemakers seeks to move the conversation along, illustrating with robust data what has always been known about booksellers, which is the ‘halo effect’ they have on their communities.

The Report is published today and is available to download here.