The impending retail doom of bookshops from the increasingly monopolistic behaviour of Amazon has been on every book enthusiast’s lips. Cut-price books, a delivery service that can place a copy of Bridget Jones in your lap on the same day, and cheaper delivery costs have been threatening to push traditional bookshops out of the market. The inability to compete with businesses like Amazon due to their comparably smaller size have threatened retailers such as Waterstones, Foyles and WHSmiths to the brink of extinction. However, while the rest of the high street is moving towards providing experiences as well as goods, bookshops are doing the same, proving that hunting for the next page-turner requires more than just a click.
Through a series of changing business models in the bookshop market, stores such as Waterstones, Hatchards and Foyles have retained their footprint across the UK. In 2018, Waterstones made an offer to buy Foyles, which had four stores and was family owned. This was an attempt to save a smaller yet established bookstore from the onslaught of rivals such as Amazon.
The clever pairing between books and coffee has been creating an experience for readers
As a result of this acquisition, the nature of Foyles stores changed to an open and friendly atmosphere that resembled that of Waterstones. As the UK’s high streets became embroiled by higher commercial rent and depressed consumer spending, footfall in traditional bookstores fell, taken up by Amazon. Yet, despite mass sales of Kindles and Amazon’s saturation of the book market, Waterstones returned to profit in 2016, the first profit it made for six years, indicating that consumers wanted to buy a physical book from a bookstore.
Both high-street and independent bookshops are changing how they sell books to us, enticing the reader into picking up a book from a physical store. The experience of wandering into a bookstore, feeling welcomed at the door by motifs welcoming readers and selections chosen by staff draws people in. Being encouraged to have a read of the first few pages on a comfy armchair or having a conversation with someone also eying up the same book makes the experience more enjoyable. Buying and reading a book is less about sitting alone at home with your feet up: the recommendations of friendly strangers and the quiet chitchat in bookshops across the UK have persuaded people that reading does not have to be a solitary activity.
The bookshop cafe, where people can settle in with a flat white and a new book, has been encouraging enthusiasts into buying books, rather than ordering online. The clever pairing between books and coffee has been creating an experience for readers. Now, readers are encouraged to flick through a couple of books in the bookshop, buy them, and then make their way to the cafe in the same building to spend a couple of hours engrossed in a story.
Embracing their niches, bookshops around the country are moving away from the mainstream to remain profitable
Coffee shops have retained high year-on-year growth, and this growth is now seeping into the profits of booksellers such as Foyles and Waterstones. One of my favourite ways to enjoy a bit of downtime is to find a bookshop with a cafe, purchase a book and hide in a corner with multiple flat whites. My favourite store is the Waterstones in Charing Cross with window views of Trafalgar Square, making it the perfect place to read, people-watch and enjoy rainy views of London. It is also a great way to kill time while waiting for trains or avoid downpours and tourists. I’m not the only one who enjoys a book with a flat white. Bookshops with cafes experience, on average, 3% higher growth in sales of books than bookshops without cafes. Pair that with coffee sales and it is obvious why bookstores are expanding into coffee.
Independent booksellers are also feeling a sense of optimism. Embracing their niches, bookshops around the country are moving away from the mainstream to remain profitable. Round Table Books in Brixton, which sells books exclusively with Black and Minority Ethnic protagonists, has seen greater growth as parents search for books with characters that represent their children. Increasing demand for an experience around hunting down the next read is revolutionising bookshops and enabling them to combat competitors. Jeff Bezos envisioned a renaissance around books with rising sales of kindles, but consumers are reluctant to let go of their well-thumbed paperbacks.