Godfray hints at 2019 upturn

News - Bookselling Wednesday, 02 January 2019

Indie numbers tipped to rise as BA executive chairman Tim Godfray predicts 'positive story to tell on bookshops for the second year in a row'

Tim Godfray's confident assessment of the fortunes of bookshops this year was contained in his annual seasonal message to the book trade.

Godfray described a series of positive straws in the wind for the book sector, saying: 'An email arrived from Pippa, our membership manager. I’m not at liberty to divulge the details, but we will have a positive story to tell on bookshops for the second year in a row. This is no mean feat, after so many years of decline, and it’s a sign of the renewed confidence in the sector that new, energetic and creative people are entering it.'

Last year the BA reported that the total number of independent bookshops in the UK had increased for the first time since 1995, the year the net book agreement ended. In 2017 868 indies were trading, up one from 867 in 2016. But there is still a lot of ground to make up: in 1995 the total was 1,894.

Godfray's annual tour de horizon continued: 'A report about the High Street came in from my old company, PricewaterhouseCoopers. This shows that so many shops in our High Streets are having a hard time and closing, but booksellers are bucking the trend. Who would have predicted this a number of years ago?

'Very many have played a part in helping to change the narrative. Our members have firmed up their strategies and have been focusing on those that Amazon can’t easily emulate. Booksellers were the first to weather "The Amazon Firestorm". And maybe are the first to exit?

'Publishers are giving most welcome support to bookshops. Our publishing colleagues have focused especially on making the physical book even more appealing.

'Authors are writing some wonderful books and are promoting themselves and their books at so many booksellers’ events.

'And all this wouldn’t have been achieved without consumers, who have voted with their feet and have elected to come back to physical books and to bookshops. We believe the tide is continuing to turn in favour of printed books and bookshops.

'In the online v physical debate, you might get the impression that almost everything is bought online these days and the High Street is stuffed, but it is salutary to remember the ONS statistic that overall only 18% of all purchases are made online. (Sadly, that’s not the case for books, but it is a huge corrective to the media narrative that physical shopping must always lose to online.)

'Brexit uncertainty notwithstanding, the BA has had a good year. Our Business Rates’ campaign has led to the Chancellor in October announcing new arrangements which will result in considerable savings for many of our members.

'The European Competition Directorate is looking at Amazon’s Marketplace and other online platforms to determine whether there are any anti-competitive practices taking place. Following representations from ourselves and others, DG Competition considered whether Amazon had been receiving illegal state aid - and ended up by fining them €250,000,000. The UK Government is accepting our view that the tech companies are not paying their fair share of tax to UK PLC.

'According to The Sun on Saturday, Chelsea’s midfielder, Kante, pays more tax than Amazon!! We have been pressing our parliamentarians to do something about it. To redress the situation to some extent, Philp Hammond has introduced a Digital Services Tax to try and generate a fairer competitive environment between online and physical High Street sellers. A step in the right direction.

'Our company Batch will shortly be bringing out a new APP. Members will be able to use their mobile phones to read the ISBN bar code as the books are unpacked, and the Batch software within the smart phone quickly identifies the correct e-invoice on the Batch system which relates to the consignment being unpacked. This service will be a game changer for many bookshops.

'We support World Book Day to a very considerable extent. What WBD achieved this year with a tiny team is, quite frankly, remarkable. The BA has run some very successful campaigns - Independent Bookshop Week, Academic Book Week, Irish Book Week, Books Are My Bag Bookshop Day, and the BAMB Readers’ Awards. When M&C Saatchi first devised the Books Are My Bag campaign for us and the PA, they specifically had as an Objective the need to promote the strengths of the physical book and bookshop, to change the media narrative and to get across to consumers what their communities would be like without a bookshop. This is all happening. BAMB has played a part in changing the media narrative.

'I hope that the media will cover more positive stories next year and we will all feel a lot better about where we are going.'

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