Five Leaves Bookshop, Nottingham’s radical and independent bookshop, is on the shortlist for the regional round of the UK and Ireland Independent Bookshop of the Year Award, for the second year running.
In November 2013 Ross Bradshaw decided to do something radical, he opened up a bookshop when we were all being told that print media was dead. The opening of the shop coincided with some pretty alarming statistics, many of which inspired the creation of Dawn of the Unread. These included: independent bookshops had dropped to below 1,000 for the first time, libraries were seeing hours cut back, and according to various literacy trusts, the YouTube Generation were apparently bored of books. At that time it was the first bookshop to open in any city centre this century. It took balls as well as books.
Since then Nottingham has become a UNESCO City of Literature, and Five Leaves has established itself as a hub of intellectual debate thanks to some thoughtful events. Talks over the next fortnight include a book reading from one of the publishers of Noir Press, who publish Lithuanian fiction; rescuing refuges, a celebration of the work of Derrick Buttress, and Irish Republican women. This is all neatly rounded off with the annual States of Independence festival, now in its eighth year.
The regional shortlist covers bookshops from the Midlands and Wales group of the Booksellers Association, which will be trimmed to a national shortlist on 15 March with the final winner being announced on 8 May as part of a range of bookselling and publishing awards. The overall winner will receive £5,000 towards their business.
Five Leaves is the only shortlisted bookshop from the East Midlands this year. Ross Bradshaw, said “We are really pleased to be shortlisted again. Five Leaves is a destination bookshop rather than a shop aimed at the High Street, our strongest areas are probably politics and poetry! We also run many events – 63 last year plus an all day event in Leicester, and run bookstalls as far apart as Wakefield and London. Many of our events are in conjunction with local community groups.”
People have been predicting the death of the book for years, but they seem to be having a bit of a revival at late. Sales of printed books rose for the first time last year in four years, while ebook sales fell by 1.6% in 2015. This trend is happening across the arts. Vinyl records, another art form supposedly doomed with the advent of digital technology, outsold digital downloads last year for the first time in yonks. Digital offers ease and convenience as well as infinite duplications of content. But records, and books, have an aura, a magic about them. Tangible reality is not quite over yet, although the future of bookshops could be unless they become valued both by customers and the government.
The pressures on opening or maintaining a bookshop is hopefully a concern for David Gauke, chief secretary of the Treasury, who this week received a letter from the Booksellers Association who fear changes to the business rate system will make it impossible for bookshops to survive on the High Street. The business rate payments are changing because of a new revaluation of property, meaning some bookshops will end up paying double of their current rent. The letter from the Booksellers, as reported in the Guardian on 25 February, “points out that the Waterstones in Bedford pays 16 times more in business rates per square foot than the nearby Amazon distribution centre.”
The main hope for Booksellers is that bookshops be given the special status of “community asset value”, given the benefits they bring to the local area. This is more important than any award, although recognition is important. We recognise bookshops as a community asset and this is why we featured Ross Bradshaw and the Five Leaves Bookshop in our Byron Clough issue of Dawn of the Unread.
You can read an article about Ross and the history of bookshops in Nottingham in one of the embedded panels in Dawn of the Unread here.
Dawn of the Unread is a graphic novel celebrating Nottingham’s literary history. It was created to support libraries and bookshops. It began life online and won the Teaching Excellence Award at the Guardian Education Awards in 2015 and has since been published by Spokesman Books (2017). All profits go towards UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature.