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Growing a Business Trends

How Our Favourite Bookshops Are Diversifying (& What We Can Learn From Them)


With a 10-year high of bookshops open on UK high streets reported in 2022, the logical next question is: what separates the thriving bookshops from the surviving ones, with both sometimes existing on the very same street?

It comes down in no small part to a conscious, creative, and considered approach to diversification. 

When we look at bookshops specifically, the need for (and high potential of) diversification is thrown into sharp focus: 

  • Their competitors have a near-identical product catalogue 
  • Shopping for books online is almost always cheaper, and is highly convenient 
  • Bookshops are highly reliant on the few major book distributors and publishing houses 

Many are rising to the challenge brilliantly. In fact, bookshops are some of the most creatively-diversified independent businesses we’ve come across.   


Beyond books: what our favourite bookshops are offering

Here are just some of the ways that the best and busiest bookshops have built a diversified business beyond books, and what we can learn from them.


Subscription services and book clubs

Statistically speaking, it’s both easier and cheaper to sell more to your existing customers instead of acquiring new ones.

So how do you turn a passerby or occasional customer into a monthly one? 

Book subscriptions can certainly help. Not only do these bring in consistent monthly income, they make a great larger or last-minute gift for book lovers, allowing bookshops to offer up a wider range of gifting options around Christmas. 

BookBar, a wine bar and bookshop in North London, offers tailored ‘Shelf Medicate’ subscriptions with an accompanying consultation so the team can select the right books to pull you out of a reading funk, as well as a book club subscription that combines their book of the month with a virtual author event to discuss it.


🥡 The takeaway:

Could you offer a subscription service for products within your business? This works best for products that get ‘used up’; books that are read, bread that’s eaten, or soap that gets finished. 

If you have an ecommerce store, Shopify makes it simple to create this option in your website’s backend.


In-person events 

In-person author events are a staple of the good bookshops that are big enough to hold them. But modern bookshops are getting even more creative with the types of events they offer, too. 

Salted Books, an English language bookshop in Lisbon, runs a free ‘Writer’s hour’ on Tuesday mornings, as well as paid writing courses throughout the year. Meanwhile, back in London, Backstory hosts live music events in its space, alongside the regular author ones.


🥡 The takeaway:

Whatever your shop sells, your space is a valuable resource, so squeeze the most out of it after hours with workshops and events. Or if you don’t have the capacity to host or run these right now, consider leasing your space out to local groups in the meantime.


Coffee, wine and snacks

Bookshops have traditionally been quiet, peaceful places — a good spot to spend some quiet time alone browsing the shelves. But many modern bookshops are flipping this classic image on its head, and turning their bookshops into social spaces where you can read (or discuss) a good book over a coffee, or a glass of wine.  

BookBar and Backstory both champion reading as a social activity (and have great coffee, and great wine); their bookshops are designed to ‘hang out’ in rather than simply pop in to, whether with friends or alone. And Shakespeare and Company, a bookish Paris hotspot, takes this one step further with select food options, including delicious pastries (of course).


🥡 The takeaway:

Selling coffee, wine, and other edible goods boosts your store’s footfall, giving people a reason to come through the door when they don’t actually need to buy anything else (but may then still do so!). It does add an extra layer of complexity to your business, though, with the need for extra licences and certification, so be sure you’re across all of that before you start branching out.

📚 Bookmark for later: Managing Footfall & The Joy of Local Collaborations, with mlkwood store


Their own publications and merchandise

While many bookshops will expand their product catalogue with greeting cards, some bookshops are taking the brave and brilliant step of actually producing their own publications, firmly establishing themselves as leaders in their space. 

The long-established Brick Lane Bookshop holds an annual short story competition with cash prizes, and then publishes the winning entries together in an anthology. Backstory, meanwhile, launched its own magazine for book-lovers, which is soon to be stocked in major bookshop chains across the UK and USA. 


🥡 The takeaway:

If you’ve been selling a certain type of product for a while, you’ll be really well-placed to spot any gaps in the market, and potentially fill them with your own products or passion projects. Who knows — they may end up becoming a significant part of your store’s income! 


Be bold, be brave, and try something different

“The most successful independent retailers in our community are constantly innovating, creating new experiences, experimenting with new products in their store, and generally trying different things to see what works — as well as, of course, providing a great shopping experience first and foremost”, says Ashley Horn, our co-founder. 

“Brick and mortar stores can’t afford to get dragged into pricing wars with online shops, but customer experience and community-building is where they can really excel”.

Looking for more inspiration on how to take your independent business to daringly different new heights? Head to one of the guides below next, or browse unique stock from the 6,500 independent brands on CREOATE.

📚 7 Independent Businesses Going Beyond Traditional Retail

📚 How to Increase Footfall In-Store: 15 Strategies to Try

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