INDEPENDENT bookshops have entered a new chapter with experts stating they are at their “healthiest point in decades”.

Their resurgence was hailed as The Independent Bookshop of the Year winners were unveiled on Thusrday with The Edinburgh Bookshop coming out on top in Scotland – the fifth time it has won since opening 10 years ago.

The British Book Awards, sponsored by book wholesaler Gardners, celebrates bookshops that support their local communities with bespoke selling and tailored initiatives.

Tom Tivnan, The Bookseller managing editor and chair of the Independent Bookshop of the Year judges, said: “Independent bookselling has come out of the other side of the pandemic at its healthiest point in decades.

“The through line is innovation as all the winners have experimented with new ways to expand their businesses to get books into more readers’ hands.

"Sometimes this is using new technologies, sometimes it is just plain old hard bookselling graft, but whatever tools they are using, it is backed by the algorithm-beating personal touch.

“What has been really cheering is that this is consistent across the board from, not just the newer shops, but the concerns that have been trading successfully for decades.”

The Edinburgh Bookshop is the Scottish winner for a fifth time, adding to its 2014 Children’s Bookseller of the Year trophy. Owner Marie Moser said: “Our sector was the first to be hit when Amazon began to sell books online, but recent years has seen new independent bookshops springing up.”

Moser puts the success of her bookshop and other indies down to knowing what their customers want – and to the personal touch from knowledgeable staff who can recommend books for all ages and stages.

“There are around nine independents in the city, and we all do things slightly differently. We have a special interest in children’s books and are very aware that a lot of children and adults think bookshops are not for them. Everybody is welcome here and we have story time for the under-fives, book clubs for adults and children, as well as two or three author events a month.

“Since the pandemic, people have come to appreciate what is in their local area and we are very much a neighbourhood bookshop. As well as stocking Booker Prize winners, we have a feel-good section of well-written romances, so we cater for all tastes. We offer our customers a balanced diet of ice-cream and cake as well as their greens.”

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The success of booksellers is reflected in figures from the Booksellers Association, which found that the number of independent bookshops in their membership in the UK and Ireland has grown for the sixth consecutive year, marking a decade of growth following over 20 years of decline. There were 1072 independents by the end of 2022, up from 1027 in 2021 and the lowest point of 867 in 2016.

Meryl Halls, Managing Director at the Booksellers Association said: “We are clearly delighted at the continued increase in the number of indie bookshops on our high streets. Taken with the expansion seen within the Waterstones estate last year, this news confirms that bookshops are crucially important – and valued – parts of our high street communities.

“Bookshops bring social and cultural capital to every town, village, suburb or city centre. We want the number of bookshops to keep rising.

“What is particularly pleasing in the indie numbers is to be able to welcome a new cohort of booksellers to the industry; those with fresh eyes, new perspectives, energy and a commitment to the cultural contribution of bookselling to our society and economy

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“During the pandemic we saw a frankly astonishing number of new entrants to bookselling.

"Drawn by the cultural relevance of books, reading and bookshops, inspired by the activism on display amongst current booksellers, seeing bookselling as rewarding career – these are all reasons why people open bookshops, and we want each and every one to succeed.  

 “However, with the economic headwinds coming our way, recession, inflation, labour shortages and massive cost increases across the board, we need to continue to support our bookshops. Bookselling is not easy, and margins are extremely tight and hard-won. It’s our job now to ensure that this number stabilises, and that the industry, governments and consumers know what is at stake when we fight for the survival of bookshops.”

The nine winners are now in contention for overall Independent Bookshop of the Year Award, to be announced on 15 May. The Independent Bookshop of the Year winner will also compete for Book Retailer of the Year.