As bookstores face competition from eBooks and online retailers, we wonder what is the future of the humble bookstore and what effect will this have on the property market?

There were a number of closures of independent bookstores around the country earlier in the century, to the point that at one stage there were under 1,000 independent bookstores in the UK in 2014. Indeed, as more and more independent bookshops closed their doors for good, many predicted that books were a dying medium. Soon we would get all our information from eBooks and the few who still bought books would get them from online shops such as Amazon. At least, that was what was supposed to happen. However, the reality has been altogether different.

The humble bookstore has proved itself incredibly resilient to the challenges it has faced from online competition, with many younger consumers turning to printed books as their preferred medium. Indeed, eBook sales fell 17% in 2016, benefiting both large book chains and independent retailers. Additionally, Waterstones, one of Britain’s largest high street booksellers, returned to profit in 2015, with a rise of 3% in physical book sales showing a significant resurgence.

Even Amazon, the largest online book retailers have recently begun opening physical bookstores, attempting to corner the book shop market with their high-tech retail units. However, there is still a significant threat for independent bookstores as they do not have the economies of scale to compete with Amazon and larger book retailers such as Waterstones.

All of these movements in the book sales market have also had a profound effect on the property market. With many entrepreneurs no longer wanting to open bookshops, independent retailers have suffered. However, there are a number of small retailers who are doing well by providing a niche and specialist service. In addition, many bookshops have adapted to difficulties in the retail sector by providing more experiential free services including book readings and signings by celebrated authors and sections where potential customers can sit and read in a comfortable, quiet area.

Ultimately, whilst the physical bookstore will continue to face significant competition from both online retailers and eBooks, many will be able to adapt and change to remain viable. The bookshop as an institution is not under significant threat of dying out due to the number of people who still appreciate the simple joy of buying and reading a physical book. Here at RIB we love the joy of reading a good book, amongst our favourite bookstores is Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street with its extensive travel section.

In terms of the property market, there will be some effect. Not all bookshops will survive the competition from eBooks and the online sector which will lead to many vacant retail units as companies look to downsize or go out of business. In addition, there will be increased demand for industrial warehouse space as online retailers require more and more space with excellent logistics in order to be able to distribute the wide array of books they are selling.

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