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The Stirrer can reveal that the last independent bookshop in Birmingham is to close. Author and publisher Dave Woodhall laments its demise and lifts the lid on a cut-throat business where big definitely isn’t beautiful.

It’s increasingly hard to keep a small business going, especially in the retail sector where you’re competing with the chain stores, their massive advertising budgets and the buying power they can utilise.

On a level playing field there would be no competition – the independent shop would win every time for its friendly service, wider choice and better atmosphere. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a level playing field where big business is involved.

Too many customers are brainwashed into buying brands they’re familiar with and seeking out the lowest prices. That’s why so many small retailers are unable to compete, including one of the most important shops in Birmingham.

Bond’s Books, on Harborne High Street, will be closing in the near future. As owner Sarah Bond says, I kept hoping things would start to turn round but have come to realise this is very unlikely.”

I’m sure Sarah’s words could be echoed by shop owners throughout Britain. And so Birmingham’s cultural life will diminish by another small piece. The importance of Sarah’s shop is that this is, I believe, the last remaining independent bookshop in the city.

There are a few second-hand and religious booksellers still going but as far as I know, once Bond’s closes there will be no other stockists of new, general interest, books, outside of the chains.

The reason why Bond’s is closing isn’t because people don’t want to buy books anymore. Sales are still much higher than ten years ago. But they aren’t being bought from bookshops. They’re being bought from supermarkets, discounters and, increasingly, online.

Good news for consumers, bad news for the minnows of the book trade. And that, of course, means bad news for the consumer if the minnows find life too difficult and shut up shop.

It isn’t just the retailers that are finding literary life difficult.

As a (very) small publisher I find it increasingly hard to even get my titles stocked by the big stores. At a local level there’s not usually a problem – management at Waterstone’s and Borders can usually be relied upon to bend the rules for a local book they know will sell respectable amounts.

But trying to get a national buyer to look at a new title from an unknown author who hasn’t got a massive promotional budget behind them is a gargantuan task. I’ve given up on receiving even a “No, thanks” letter from the bigger names in the business.

Apparently they don’t have the time.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world. The small shops get picked off by the big ones. The bigger chains feel their margins squeezed by supermarkets and the likes of Amazon. To protect their profits they demand increasingly larger discounts (often up to 80% and more), enabling them to sell books cheaper than their smaller counterparts buy them.

They charge vast sums to publishers so that books can be placed in advantageous places near doors and tills – in many cases thousands of pounds per week, per title. And they play safe with known authors, as publishers have become equally unwilling to gamble on anything other than surefire hits.

If JK Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book in 2008 the chances are that it would never get a publisher.

The book industry is no different to any other. The big boys get richer while those on the periphery find it harder to get by. Excuse the romanticism, but books shouldn’t be about profit margins and sales forecasts. There should be room in this of all businesses for people who are in it not for the money, but because they believe they’re doing their bit to make the world a better place.

Get down to Bond’s while you still can. A bit more trade might not be able to keep them open, but it will, at least, make sure their passing doesn’t go unnoticed.

Can anything be done to protect small bookshops and other independent retailers? Or is their decline inevitable?

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