Indies in Scotland: Exploring the Unique Role of Independent Bookshops in Scotland’s Towns and Villages

Author Audrey Laing

This academic article by Audrey Laing, published in 2020, explores the business practices and cultural place of independent bookshops. It identifies the contribution of independent retailers like bookshops to local communities, and provides policy guidance about how they can more effectively be harnessed in the regeneration of high streets.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

This academic article explores the business practices and cultural place of bricks-and-mortar independent bookshops – a form of retailer going through a period of change due to digital disruption and the rise in things like e-books and online book retailers. Focusing on the role of Scottish independent bookstores in smaller towns and villages, the author conducted telephone interviews with nine Scottish publishers and/or booksellers, on which this article is based.

The first key finding is that independent bookshop managers are motivated more by their love of the product they sell, rather than economic rewards. Second, independent bookshops are important cultural drivers, with bookshop managers often having an intimate knowledge of their local areas and communities, supporting small businesses and places for the local community to spend time in. Third, independent bookstores are often associated with local book festivals, with bookstore managers playing an important role in organising and catalysing these cultural events, which can attract both the local community and tourists. Fourth, the independent bookstores studied were very active in the local community, offering services such as school book festivals, providing books to schools, and reading/writing groups, helping to distinguish themselves from online retailers. Fifth, the bookstores provided a safe space for local communities, functioning as an important community hub, especially for the elderly and children/families.  

However, a number of key challenges the independent bookstores studied are facing were also identified, such as the geographical isolation found in rural villages meaning they relied on customers serendipitously passing the store; competition from big online book retailers like Amazon; weakening ties between bookstores and schools, with some apparent tensions with the local council and Scottish government; and the demise of the Net Book Agreement. A series of policy recommendations are therefore outlined to address some of these challenges.

The article concludes by suggesting that independent bookstores can be further harnessed in the revitalisation of high streets by creating a sense of experience and place identity.