A 'golden age' of books? Scotland is experiencing a surge in sales – Laura Waddell

I spent Tuesday morning at the Scottish Book Trade Conference held by Publishing Scotland and the Bookseller’s Association.

While the word ‘conference’ wouldn’t usually spark joy, publishers and booksellers do enjoy getting together.

Naysayers (and provocateurs) often ask if books are a dying industry, but the answer to that is no.

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According to Nielsen Bookscan consumer data, book sales continued on a rising trend throughout 2020-21, the highest for a decade – the phrase ‘golden age’ has been bandied around.

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Readers across the UK reached for books at a difficult time, likely seeking comfort, escapism, and trusted information. And in fact, readers in Scotland were particularly voracious – book sales in Scotland grew at a marginally faster rate than the rest of the UK in this time period. There’s a lot to celebrate about our national book culture.

Across the UK, a wonderful 100 bookshops opened during the pandemic – a particularly impressive feat. Perhaps the pandemic encouraged more budding booksellers to take the plunge into their dream job. In fact, bookshops in the UK are at their highest numbers since 2012, with 229 in Scotland alone.

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Speaking to delegates by video was Neil Gray, minister for culture, Europe and international development, and now also minister with special responsibility for refugees from Ukraine. Understandably too busy to attend in person.

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Reading books is becoming more popular, not less (Picture: Clemens Bilan/Getty Images for Bread & Butter by Zalando)

Culture and creativity should be at the heart of everything we do in Scottish society,” he told the audience of booksellers and publishers. Penelope Cooper, director for culture and major events, reiterated that the creative industries are a growth sector for the Scottish Government.

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One of the greatest strengths of the book trade (and of course, having worked in it, I’m very fond of it) is that it attracts creative, tenacious and innovative people who are passionate about getting books into people’s hands. The mood on Tuesday was bright.

But the industry has its challenges to overcome. Concerns raised at this year’s conference included the health of the high street, rising costs across rents, energy, paper and printing, and prices up on pretty much everything else besides.

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Green supply chains are discussed with new urgency, diversity and inclusion in the workplace continue to be analysed, and in the wake of Brexit, many are keeping a close eye on potentially damaging changes to copyright law.



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