Independent Irish bookshops survive and thrive

After years of doom and gloom, the industry is feeling positive about the future again...

"It’s funny now we see all these stories, 'Books are not dead - people are buying books' and we’re saying, 'We knew this all along.' We were not the ones who were panicking," reflects Bob Johnston who operates the Gutter Bookshop on the western edge of Dublin's Temple Bar.

Almost 10 years after the launch of Kindle and iPhone, booksellers have settled into their new reality of living alongside these technologies and sales are on the rise again.

The Gutter Bookshop / Facebook

"We worked in the business and we knew people were buying books and we love books and we knew lots of people who love books," Mr Johnstone continues.

After years spent working for Waterstones and Hughes & Hughes, he opened the doors of his own shop almost eight years ago.

He says that sales have improved every year since then.

Books Upstairs haul / Facebook

Bob opened a second shop in Dalkey and with the industry in recovery mode, he told Newstalk's Down to Business that he is open to adding a third outlet (if the right opportunity arises).

Selling books in 2017

Vincent Wall (who was filling in for presenter Bobby Kerr) sat down with Bob - and also Joanna Hamilton who manages Bridge Street Books in Wicklow, and Morris Earls, the owner of Books Upstairs on Dublin's D'Olier Street to discuss the industry and how it is surviving in modern Ireland.

"We have to work harder and to do things differently, it’s a more exciting business in some ways -  because you’re now running your shop almost as an art centre and a centre of culture rather than a place where a simple transaction takes place," Morris told Newstalk.

He is positive about the future of independent book retail - he thinks that digitalisation has driven multinationals out of the market and created more space for independent operations.

The business owner compares the industry to vinyl records, which have seen their sales rocket in recent years. He notes that publishers are putting more of an emphasis on design and production as a response to this shift.

Joanna's shop puts a specific emphasis on children's books - she hopes to connect with a new generation of readers.

The store is helped by its ''Fairy' called blue, who lives behind a fairy door and recommends books for little ones.

Getting by

The Gutter Bookshop's Bob Johnston adds that books are becoming increasingly important for parents who are trying to cut down on their children's screen time.

When asked about margins in the industry he said that of every €10, €3 goes to the retailer, that's before they pay their rates and taxes.

Morris - who's Dublin shop specialises in poetry and humanities as well as fiction and history - said that owning a bookshop won't make you rich, but "if you’re careful you will pay your bills."

He started the store in 1978 and now runs his shop with his daughter, meaning there's a new generation ready to keep selling books if he decides to take a step back from the business.