Guardian feature on independent bookshops

I’ve lamented the decline of independent bookshops on this site in the past, so was pleased to see a Guardian special section on independent bookshops last weekend. It’s available online – I was particularly interested in the listing of all the independent bookshops in London, but there are also similar articles for the other areas of the UK (follow the links at the side of the London one).

I’ve been to many of them, but there are some new ones to me as well, like Magma and England’s Lane Books. Also good to see new places opening up, like Clerkenwell Tales, established 2009. Am definitely planning a visit to those three at least.

I was also reminded how lucky I am to live within walking distance of four good independent bookshops: Muswell Hill Bookshop, Highgate Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop and New Beacon Books. My favourite is The Big Green Bookshop, which is run by two former Waterstone’s employees who set up their own place when Waterstone’s moved out of the area. It’s got a friendly feel, a good selection for a small place, and they run a LOT of author readings and other events. I used to have an excellent one, Prospero’s, just around the corner, but it closed down about a year ago now.

Of course the outlook is still not great, especially with the advance of e-books, but still I enjoyed reading about so many independent bookshops and planning some bookbuying trips. Maybe I should be depressed that all of the bookshops in London can now be listed in a single article, something that would have been unthinkable a decade or two ago? Maybe, but I’ll choose not to think about that too much.

Do you have a favourite London bookshop, one that I should definitely visit? Or please share one from your own town or region, wherever you are in the world – I am a keen traveller, and always like to stop into a bookshop while I’m away!


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There are 7 comments

  1. Come out to my neck of the woods and visit Topping and Company in Ely. Amazingly, Cambridge doesn’t have many independent bookstores, or at least only second-hand/collectable ones, but Toppings is lovely. I would so support an independent if there were one here in town, and of course even though Ely is only 20 minutes away by car I hardly ever go there. I think, though, that independents will rise again, because they have the capacity to give personal service to their customers. If I had a store that would give me specialised recommendations each month and get hold of obscure titles for me, I would be a regular customer, no question.

  2. Agree with your comments on these independents, Andrew.
    They demonstrate that bookshops can survive, but only if they compete for shopper appeal.
    As a customer experience specialist, there is so much more that the average High St bookseller can do to drive its business forward – see my own blog on this for how UK bookshops need to rethink their customer experience

  3. Hi litlove
    Toppings sounds great. I’ve been to Ely once or twice to visit the lovely cathedral, so maybe I’ll take another trip there and stop at the bookshop too. Thanks for the recommendation! It is amazing about Cambridge – it seems so perfect for a good independent bookshop. Glad you are optimistic about the independents – there’s so much doom and gloom around these days!

    Hi Rick
    Thanks for visiting! I liked your post, have read it and left a comment. Your emphasis on customer experience made me think of the bookshops in New York, where I used to live. People used to go to bookshops there and just hang out for hours. They had LOTS of comfy armchairs, good music, good coffee and snacks, etc. Here it’s a little different – you can browse for a while, but there’s often little space to sit and little encouragement to hang around. Overall, I know I spent a lot more money at bookshops in America than I have here (even if some days I sat there for hours and didn’t buy a thing!).

  4. Nice post, Andrew! It is nice that the Guardian has written such an informative article. It is sad to know that all the indie bookshops in London can be listed in a single article.

    If you go to Hong Kong sometime, I would recommend that you stop by at Swindon books there. It had a wonderful collection of books and some difficult to get books, which I had been searching for years. I remember getting Kung fu novels by Jin Yong (Louis Cha) and graphic novel versions of Chinese classics like ‘Three Kingdoms’ which were difficult to get elsewhere.

  5. Thanks for the recommendation! It made me laugh – Swindon is a very dull town in southern England, so it’s funny to think of a bookshop with the same name on the other side of the world. I’ll visit if I go to Hong Kong, and also I have a friend living there at the moment so will recommend it to him.

  6. It’s hardly obscure, but the LRB for me. It’s comfortable, well lit, has a good range and the staff are friendly. My only complaint is that I can never get a seat in their marvellous cafe, because everyone else agrees it’s marvellous too.

    Did the Big Green survive then? I bought a copy of Dubliners that week when they appealed for everyone to buy at least one book. I’ve never been there, but they sounded like they deserved support.

  7. Yes, LRB is great! I tend to go on weekday afternoons and have not had trouble getting a seat, but can imagine that at busier times it would be packed. Delicious cakes 🙂 I like their author events, too – I ‘ve been to a couple and enjoyed them – Nick Davies talking about Flat Earth News, and the joint authors of Edgelands talking about their book. Both very enjoyable!

    Yes, Big Green is still there and still doing fine. It’s not a great location, in a side street off Wood Green High Road, so considering that I think they’re doing really well. They seem to have a lot of regular customers – whenever I’m in there the owners are chatting with everyone who comes in.

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