Monday, January 21, 2008

Publisher buys bookshop in bid to beat big chains

ONE OF Scotland's largest publishers has bought the first in a series of independent bookshops in a bid to thwart the big chain domination.
Hugh Andrew, managing director of Birlinn Press, rescued Elgin bookshop Yeadons from closure and is keen to open other shops as he attempts to revive the once thriving independent industry.

Birlinn Press, which publishes best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith, believes the previous Executive turned its back on the book sector, allowing out-of-town shopping centres and faceless chains to crush the Scottish independently run shops.
The small Elgin store, scheduled to open in the autumn, is considered the last independent Scottish bookshop with the exception of John Smith, which now runs university bookshops.
Andrew, who started his career in book retail with James Thin, will run the shop as a separate business, with discounted titles and "cross fertilisation" with his publishing company.
"I had been thinking about this for some time and when the final closing signs went up we just got straight in, as it was now or never," said Andrew.

"There is a reaction now against everything being done through giant chains, shopping centres and done on price. But you only have to see the success of farmers markets and look down south, where the independents are flourishing. There is no reason why this can't happen in Scotland. In the 19th century, Edinburgh was the biggest publishing centre in the world, and we have just gone so far backwards and no-one seems to have cared or noticed."

Andrew described working with the previous Scottish government as "like wandering into a swamp", their "stagnant disinterest" most recently allowing home-grown retailers Bargain Books to close.
He added: "It is going to take a lot of money to turn it round and that's what I really intend to do - make it a flagship shop. If other possible sites come up we will look to invest, but retail isn't in a happy state at the moment."
Scottish author Alasdair Gray welcomed any possible revival, describing it a "queer state of affairs" when Scottish universities are flourishing yet the country has "hardly a publisher or bookshop to call its own".

Gray said: "Independent publishers and independent bookshops are necessary for any country in a healthy state. It is a question of getting variety."
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead expressed his delight that the bookshop in his constituency is to remain. The secretary for rural affairs and the environment said: "Yeadons is an institution in Elgin. Bookshops are of both economic and cultural importance to the local community."
The SNP government points to plans to cut business rates to ensure smaller stores can compete with large chains and out-of-town shopping centres.

Waterstone's welcome Yeadon's survival. A spokesperson said they wanted to see a vibrant high street where they co-exist with independents.

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