Celebrating independent bookshops in the UK

Happy Independent Bookshop Week! Indie bookshops are an important part of the UK high street and the book market, and here we’ll highlight the role they play in boosting books beyond the market bestsellers, as well as showing some insight into the consumers who support these shops.

Starting with the bestsellers, only two books make the top ten for both the overall market and the general independent bookshops for 2023 so far, one of which is at the top of the indie chart and the other one at the top of the overall UK Total Consumer Market (TCM). Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus may be the top fiction book for the year in the UK, but among independent bookshops it goes a step further, as the overall bestseller to June. In fact, the top five indie bestsellers are all fiction, plus two more in the top ten, while the overall UK market has three non-fiction books in the lead. Prince Harry’s memoir Spare handily claims the number one spot for the year so far in the total market and while it does make the indie top ten as well, it’s not until eighth, with The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy the top non-fiction book through indies. Further to that, Nathan Anthony’s Bored of Lunch cookbooks secure the runner-up spots for the total market but are absent from the indie top ten.

Both top tens have one children’s book in the mix (excluding World Book Day £1 editions), but for independent bookshops it’s Multiverse Mix-Up! by Jamie Smart, the latest in the Bunny vs Monkey series, while David Walliams’ Robodog leads for the total UK children’s market. Extending to the top ten books within the children’s sector, the Bunny vs Monkey books are certainly popular in indie shops, claiming three spots, compared to one for the total children’s market. Other middle-grade fiction titles include Twenty Thousand Fleas Under the Sea by Dav Pilkey, which ranks fifth in children’s for the total UK but second among independent booksellers, along with the two latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid books appearing in both top tens. The similarities end there, with the indies chart featuring a joke book at third as well as two Julia Donaldson picture books and The Lost Whale by Hannah Gold (whose book The Last Bear was the top children’s book through indies for the first half of 2022).

Switching over to adult sectors, fiction and non-fiction each have two books that make both the TCM and indie top tens, as shown above. In fiction, Murder Before Evensong by Reverend Richard Coles joins the aforementioned Lessons in Chemistry in either list, as do the respective non-fiction bestsellers, Spare and The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse. The latter’s animated story tie-in edition also makes the top ten non-fiction books for indie shops this year so far, and both Taste by Stanley Tucci and The Salt Path by Raynor Winn have held onto spots after also appearing in 2022, now joined by Winn’s Landlines. Over in fiction, Still Life by Sarah Winman and The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Safak are proving to be long-running indie favourites, as they both appeared in the overall top ten at this point last year as well, detailed in a previous blog post.

Nearly all the featured fiction bestsellers through indie bookshops sit in general & literary fiction, with only Murder Before Evensong diverging into crime & thriller, and those genre preferences are reflected in the results from our monthly Books & Consumers survey. As part of the survey, we ask consumers what book retailers they’ve used over the past year, as well as which genres they generally read/use. For those who use local/independent bookshops, crime & thriller is still the most popular genre, as it is for the wider book buyer base, but the share who read general literary fiction is double for indie shoppers compared to overall book buyers. Generally, the indie shoppers show a higher number interested in most genres, but more significant differences can be seen for historical, classic and popular fiction as well as biography, history and cookery.

On top of more widespread genre interests, indie shoppers are also more likely to be daily readers, at nearly half of buyers who say they use independent bookshops, and to discuss and read about books. And with shoppers who are so engaged with books, a good shopping experience is of course important, and here indie bookshops deliver: popular reasons for choosing to shop at indies include good selection, service and atmosphere, as well as a desire to support the shop/organisation.

And what better time to support your local bookshop than Independent Bookshop Week!

Data extracted from the BookScan UK Total Consumer Market (TCM) to 10 June 2023, and the Books & Consumers survey to December 2022.