Monday, October 25, 2021

Second-Hand Bookshops in Britain - Progress Report

In July I reported on the very welcome reopening of The Book Guide, which lists second-hand bookshops in Britain and Ireland. At the last count, in 2019, this had details of about 1,180 bookshops in the UK, and this number had been broadly similar for several years.

Contrary to popular belief about a decline, this represented a 25% increase in the number since those listed in Driff’s exhaustive directory of over 30 years before.

Browsers have been helpfully sending in their reports to the relaunched guide since the end of June, and there is a new feature which records closed bookshops. From this we can see that just over 70 bookshops in the guide are now known to have closed to date. That sounds a lot, and may suggest a decline has now begun.

Though it is always melancholy to hear of the closure of any bookshop, the picture may not be quite so bleak as it looks. First, of course, there is an element of catch-up in the recording. There’s two years’ worth of news here. Secondly, some of the closures are not of full-scale bookshops, but eg of market stalls and rooms in antiques centres, which are likely to be more changeable. Thirdly, there is always an element of to and fro in the trade, and it was not unusual, when the guide was originally running, for about 40 bookshops to close in any year.

On the other hand, previously the number of newly opened or newly discovered second-hand bookshops kept pace with the closures, so that the net total did not change all that much. But now that doesn’t seem to be the case, just yet. There are fewer new listings. 

Even so, the total is still around 1,110, compared to Driff’s July 1984 number of 942. It will be worth keeping an eye on progress, and readers can help by sending the guide news and reports of any openings, discoveries or closures – and of course by supporting as many of these hardy bookshops as we can!

(Mark Valentine)

Bookshop map: The Book Guide

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