Crowdfunding offers the UK’s independent booksellers a pandemic lifeline

Booksellers have kept readers around the UK going throughout a series of lockdowns.

Booksellers have kept readers around the UK going throughout a series of lockdowns.

Now the reading community is coming together to back their local bookshops, with tens of thousands of pounds donated to support stores in Crickhowell, Brighton and Buckley.

The Booksellers Association said that independent bookshop numbers have actually grown over the past 22 months, with its independent membership up by 12% since the pandemic started to 1,026 stores, the highest since 2012. Fifty-two new bookshops, including chain branches, opened last year, and 57 have opened this year to date.

In Crickhowell in Wales, Emma Corfield-Walters found herself wondering what to do when her landlord said he would be selling the building which housed her bookshop, Book-ish, by the end of the year. She couldn’t borrow enough money to buy it.

“We were given the first opportunity to buy it, but we had a shortfall,” she said. “One night, it was looking really impossible. I had a bit of a cry, and then I had a bit of a panic. And then I did what I’ve done for the past two years when I’m having a difficult time – I just put it all out there on Twitter. Everyone said I should do a GoFundMe page, but I didn’t really feel comfortable doing that for myself. I’ve done it for authors, and to get books to schools and things, but it felt really weird doing it for me.”

She couldn’t think of another way of keeping the shop and its 22 staff going, however. “I’d got to think of the town and what would happen if we didn’t have the bookshop there, so I kind of managed to sort out my brain and make it OK with me.”

Corfield-Walters’ fundraiser has now raised £26,855 of her £25,000 goal via GoFundMe, with donations from names ranging from Michael Sheen – “I’ve never met Michael Sheen but someone just tweeted it to him and said ‘Welsh bookshop’ – to authors including Jane Fallon, Katie Fforde and Kiran Millwood Hargrave. She has exchanged contracts on the shop, and is hoping the rest of the funding, in the form of loans and mortgages, will arrive before Christmas so she can complete the sale.

“There’s been a groundswell of support for indie bookshops,” said Corfield-Walters. “I’m very open and honest online about what it is like to run a bookshop and going through the pandemic, and I think they feel a little bit of ownership. They feel part of a community, and that community has helped us.”

At the other end of Wales, a fire at Berwyn Books in Buckley, Flintshire last month saw over 400,000 books destroyed. “The fire spread across the whole premises. We don’t really know what to say, except everything’s gone,” said staff at the time.

But thousands of books have been donated to the bookshop since, and a fundraiser launched by customer Lauren Simcott “to help the staff get through this trying time, especially before Christmas” has already raised £2,800. Staff said they had been “overwhelmed with messages of love and condolences”, which had made them “realise how important this place was to so many people, and to know what an impact we have made to so many lives has given us some light in such a dark time”.

Afrori Books, the first Black-owned bookshop in Brighton, meanwhile, opened in October after a crowdfunding campaign raised more than £12,000. Specialising in books by black authors, owner Carolynn Bain told supporters that “you’re the reason we’re here”, and “because of you, we get to make history”.

“It’s really heartening to see the love and support from local communities for their bookshops, recognising the tremendous creativity and resilience of booksellers during the challenges of the past two years”, said Meryl Halls, managing director of the Booksellers Association of the UK & Ireland. “Bookshops have long been leaders on their own high streets and as they have reopened, they are continuing to provide for book lovers to come together and share their passion for reading. It is likely that Brexit, supply chain issues and COVID will provide further challenges in 2022, but with the support of their communities – and with an enlightened and creative approach to high streets and town centres by national and local government – there is reason to believe that the future of bookshops is bright.”