My House of Lords Speech
Thanks to Lord Bird, a discussion will take place tomorrow at The House of Lords on the Alliance Of Independent Bookshops. This is the brainchild of Simon Key, co-owner of the Big Green Bookshop. Simon kindly invited me to join him and a group of industry folk to speak tomorrow. I thought some of you might like to read what I'm going to say.
My name is Sam Missingham and I have worked in the book business for 10 years. I also, very proudly, come from a family of shopkeepers. My grandfather Albert raised 9 children on the proceeds of a fruit and veg shop and my Mum brought me and my 3 siblings up thanks to a flower shop.
My mum opened her flower shop in 1957 in Bristol – in a street full of independent shops – a bakers, a gents outfitters, a jewellery shop, a barbers and many more – shops set up by people in the community for people in the community. My Mum built up her business providing flowers for weddings and funerals, for birthdays and hospital visits, knowing almost every customer’s name and family members.
Setting up a shop was once an accessible option (especially for the working class). This is now not the case. Being a shopkeeper is an expensive business. And being an independent shopkeeper even more so. Independence costs.
But independence has value that is worth supporting. Independent bookshops add huge value to the community – they support local schools, run events, work with local authors and make sure books are accessible to everyone. Booksellers offer, what internet algorithms can not, personal, independent and one-to-one advice.
Your mum likes cosy crime? You’d like a selection of classic kids books for your first grandchild? Your dad likes military history? You need a gift for your boss? You need a book with basic Spanish for your holiday? Your son isn’t sure what feminism is? A bookseller can give you recommendations for all of these and more. They are experts, with knowledge gained over many years.
This expertise and knowledge can only stay in the community if the shop owner can make money. We know independent shopkeepers don’t get tax breaks or like their online competitors pay no tax at all. They actually pay top price for everything, they get no group discount, they have little negotiating power as individual voices.
This is why the Alliance of Independent Bookshops is such a great idea. Stronger together. It requires support from across the publishing industry. A commitment to invest in indies. Publishers must be willing to allow more of their sizeable profits to trickle down to ensure vibrant and passionate indie bookshops can survive. And this Alliance will make working with indies significantly easier and more efficient for them too. Win win.
To go back to my mum’s flower shop. After 30 years, a large supermarket chain opened opposite selling bunches of flowers cheaper that my Mum could buy them. She decided her days as a shop owner were over and retired. 30 years of experience, of making beautiful wedding flowers, of serving her community replaced by £2 bunches of flowers from Asda. No thank you.
Expertise, knowledge and independence have great value that deserve investment and support.
Investing in independent bookshops is an investment in high streets, in literacy, in authors, in schools and in children. These shops aren’t driven by making money, they are driven by a passion for books and a passion to serve communities. This is something we should all get behind 100%.