YOU may have noticed already but if not, bookshops are back. So too are books and, it goes without saying, reading them is proving popular too. Not that places to buy books or places to buy them ever went away. In 2016 there were still 867 independent bookshops across the UK but that was down from 1,894 in 1995 and in those intervening years you didn’t have to look too far to find literary Cassandras prophesying the end of the bookshop and the end of the printed book as we, and countless previous generations, have known it.

That was especially true after 2007 when Amazon launched the first Kindle, the so-called “iPod of reading”. By 2010 e-books accounted for 9% of the book market but by 2013 that had risen to over a quarter. Meanwhile, in a sort of pincer movement, Amazon’s online retail muscle cut into the bookshop market by selling physical books cheaply and delivering them straight to the customer’s door. Bookshops just couldn't compete and many closed.

The signs are, however, that things are changing. In September the Booksellers’ Association’s managing director Meryl Halls told American business news channel CNBC that the e-book “bubble”, as she phrased it, had burst. Last year Arnaud Nourry, chief executive of one of the world’s largest book publishers, Hachette Livre, went as far as to call e-books “a stupid product”. And on the day the Booker Prize was awarded jointly to Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo, market research company Mintel published some startling data to back up the idea that more and more people are returning to the printed word and to the places that specialise in selling it.

Mintel found that not only had the percentage of Britons buying a print book in the previous year risen from 51% to 56% but that the people most likely to have bought theirs from an independent bookshop were those in the 25-to-34 age range. The data also showed that 76% of print book buyers thought it important to support the independent sector and nearly half had put their money where their mouth is and done so. That figure rose to 68% among 25-to-34-year-olds. Nobody ever opened an independent bookshop to become rich, but anyone who runs one can only be heartened by those figures – even Amazon itself, perhaps, which launched its first bricks-and-mortar bookshop four years ago and now has 19 such stores in the US. How's that for irony?

“Our research shows that book buyers are especially attached to these retailers,” says Rebecca McGrath, Mintel’s senior media analyst. “Clearly they have many limitations that larger chains and companies don’t have, such as reach and stock. However, the aspect independent shops have always been able to promote is offering something unique. The fact that so many young print book buyers have bought from an independent store is a very positive sign for the future of this market”.

Meanwhile, Mintel found that take-up of e-books had remained static and the main reason people gave for not buying more e-books was a disinclination to read them on an electronic device. Reading print books instead “offers consumers one of the few screen-free media experiences, giving it heightened appreciation,” says McGrath. “Consumers’ dislike for reading on devices will be very difficult for the e-book format to overcome, but, on the other hand, it has been the cornerstone of the ongoing health of the print market”.

All in all then, now seems like a pretty good time to launch a TV programme dedicated solely and entirely to books and reading. As luck would have it, one such creature starts tonight on the new BBC Scotland channel. It’s called The Big Scottish Book Club, it’s hosted by author and critic Damien Barr and across its four episodes it will feature (among others) David Nicholls, Patrick Gale, Denise Mina, Maggie O’Farrell, Ian Rankin and Janice Galloway. It’s filmed in front of live audiences across the country and tonight’s opening episode is devoted to Tartan Noir and comes from the Inchyra Arts Club in Perthshire.

The template for The Big Scottish Book Club is an event Barr has been running in London for over a decade called Damian Barr’s Literary Salon, held for the last two years in the Savoy Hotel. You’re as likely to find famous authors in the audience as on the stage but, although Salon is as grand a word as the venue is opulent, Barr stresses the diversity of the audience and his and its underlying aim of inclusivity. All the events are recorded then augmented with other material and turned into a free podcast, and with the backing of the British Council he has taken the Salon to cities as far apart as San Francisco, Auckland, Istanbul and Moscow.

To The Big Scottish Book Club he aims to bring some of that same flavour – in other words to engage seriously with the authors and with their work but at the same time stress that accessibility is the show’s watchword.

“It’s witty and intelligent rather than intellectual,” he says of the new venture. “I think I credit most people with intelligence and I feel that this is a show that speaks to people on their level and makes them think ‘Actually, I could pick that book up’ or ‘Maybe I do think about that author the wrong way’ or ‘Maybe poetry is for me and not just for school or terrible open mic nights where everybody just wishes it would all end’ … What I’m trying to say is that there’s an attitude that goes along with a lot of events where people often wrongly think ‘Oh that’s not for me’ or ‘I wouldn’t be welcome’. What this show is about is welcoming people into that conversation about stories and poems.”

Radio series such as BBC Radio 4’s Open Book and A Good Read have long concentrated solely on books, of course. Online, meanwhile, you’ll find people such as Eric Anderson, who vlogs as Lonesome Reader, and Simon Savidge, who blogs as Savidge Reads. There’s also the small matter of the 35 million #bookstagram posts occupying a fair chunk of the world’s Instagram traffic, mostly shots of print books in interesting compositions posted by book lovers. But apart from strands devoted to books within TV arts programmes it has been many years since the small screen devoted a show entirely to the written word.

“I think it’s very exciting that books are back on telly because for me it means that more people are a part of that conversation about books,” says Barr, who grew up in Newarthill in Lanarkshire and now lives in Brighton. “If you think about how popular book clubs are, how popular book festivals are, the fact that book sales are up, more bookshops are opening – particularly in Scotland – there’s a great appetite for it, and television is a great way to reach a lot of those people.”

Scotland’s literary, publishing and bookshop scenes certainly do appear to be in fairly robust health. We have the Edinburgh International Book Festival, of course, but there are over 50 other festivals spread throughout the year, from Wigtown to Shetland. Sitting alongside Atwood and Evaristo on the Booker shortlist were Edinburgh-based author Lucy Ellmann, and Kevin Barry, who is published by Edinburgh-based Canongate Books. The winner of this year’s Man Booker International Booker, meanwhile, was published by Dingwall-based Sandstone Press and Scot Graeme Macrae Burnet’s Booker shortlisted 2016 novel His Bloody Project was published by Saraband, founded in Scotland in 1994. A newcomer on Barr’s radar is Edinburgh-based Charco Press, which won the Scottish section of the Small Press of the Year award at this year’s British Book Awards and which specialises in first translations of mostly South American literature.

In Edinburgh’s Golden Hare bookshop, meanwhile, Scotland has the reigning Independent Bookshop of the Year. The shop won the coveted title at the same British Book Awards at which Charco Press was honoured, beating off competition from eight other shops from England, Wales and Ireland. Still in the capital, independent booksellers Topping & Company has recently opened a store in a Grade A-listed, 4000 square foot William Playfair building just minutes from Princes Street which has hand-built bookcases, rolling library ladders and space for 70,000 titles. It is now the biggest independent bookshop in Scotland.

“There are really exciting things happening in Scotland and it’s no accident that BBC Scotland has commissioned this programme because of all of that,” says Barr. “I do think it’s also partly to do with having a First Minister who’s very vocal about reading, about the value of books and the joy that there is to be found in books and the challenges in books. So I think there’s a whole range of things which have come together in one moment which means that TV has taken the leap to say: ‘We’re going to give people a book show and we’re going to make it welcoming, entertaining, challenging and intelligent’”.

So what does Barr think is behind the increase in sales of print books and the new-found vigour pulsing through the world of Scotland’s independent bookshops? In part it’s cultural, he thinks.

“I always got the sense growing up that books were valued [in Scotland]. Andrew Carnegie built libraries for a reason. He could have built swimming pools or other things, but he built libraries so I think there is a veneration in Scottish culture for talking, for writing, and for sharing stories. I think that goes back in some ways to Gaelic.”

But more specifically he puts the rise in sales of hardbacks in particular down to publishers re-focussing on the appeal of the book as object, at the same time as bookshops are offering a wide range of add-ons to the book-buying experience whether it’s souped-up author readings and signing sessions, or even bars.

“There’s a lot more money being spent on the design and production of hardback books. You get them with these lovely endpapers now and Waterstone’s are doing these lovely special editions where they print the edges or they put silk ribbon in. Also there’s the ability to get books signed. You can’t get a Kindle signed. So I think the rise of the book as object has definitely contributed for sure. Also I think there’s a thing about nostalgia as well in the same way that vinyl has had this resurgence. We’re also seeing a resurgence in letter writing. I think for a new generation they’re just discovering hardbacks so there’s a slightly associated retro nostalgia.”

That’s not to say that everything is rosy in the literary garden. “We can’t take that tradition [of reading] for granted,” says Barr. And while millennials and digital natives who found a love of reading through Harry Potter or The Hunger Games may be deepening that habit in an independent bookshop somewhere near you (and Instagramming their purchases when they get home) there are still significant chunks of the demographic that books aren’t reaching. That could be partly to do with geography and social deprivation (printed book sales may be rising but cuts in free library services continue) or it may be connected to age and gender. Young children are an obvious focus for charities and organisations promoting books and reading but teenage boys and middle-aged men with little formal education are still notoriously hard to reach.

“Books and stories are not a luxury,” says Barr. “They’re a basic staple of everyday life, and everybody should have access to them”.

The chapter on how to achieve that laudable aim has yet to be written.

The Big Scottish Book Club starts on BBC Scotland tonight (10pm)