Una Mullally: Public space must be prioritised for bookselling

Feeding your mind is essential – and reading has helped many battle through pandemic

“There’s no reason why we can’t have bookshops setting out their literal stalls on streets and in public squares and parks.” File photograph: iStock

“There’s no reason why we can’t have bookshops setting out their literal stalls on streets and in public squares and parks.” File photograph: iStock

There is a case for opening bookshops. Surely we can agree on that. Bookselling Ireland previously called for bookshops to be classified as “essential retail”, which of course they are. The pandemic has been good for book-buying, but bad for locked-down bookshops. In Ireland, 13.1 million books were sold in 2020, one million more than 2019. More than 200 million books were sold in the UK last year, an eight-year high. The situation is similar in the US, with 751 million books sold, the best year for print book sales there since 2010. 

But just because people are buying more books, doesn’t mean that the independent bookshops we love are the largest beneficiaries of this boom. Remarkably, many people still insist on buying books from Amazon, despite the company’s practices. Book-buying being up, while bricks-and-mortar shops themselves are locked-down, is a gift to the likes of Amazon. Surely it’s preferable to preserve independent bookshops rather than further bolster Jeff Bezos’s wealth?

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