Report: The social impact of bookshops


A bookshop is much more than a mere sales outlet for books. Bookstores have developed over recent years into a social meeting place with the allure of a cultural institution. This has a positive effect on the ‘livability’ of the immediate surroundings. The shops in the vicinity will be pleased with the image that the bookshop has.

“Bookshops add to an attractive shopping environment, which means more shoppers and a more pleasant shopping experience, making a town or village more livable.”

Using that statement as the starting point, the research agency Lysias Advies carried out a study on instructions from KVB Boekwerk into six bookshops in three cities of differing sizes: Rotterdam, Tilburg and Deventer. Two bookstores in each city were studied: a large one in the city centre and a smaller one in an outlying district.

The study showed that bookshops represent a variety of values that can be grouped into four categories: sensory experience, inspiration, shopping experience, and the value in terms of economic value and livability.

1. Bookshops offer the complete experience of the book – and more

People who visit bookshops say that it is very important for them that they can hold the book in their hands. So it is about more than just the content. They want to be able to hold the book and browse through it; they want to get the smell and sensation of it. Touching it produces a more positive experience. People who buy a book in a bookstore prefer not to order books through the Internet for that reason.

2. The bookstore offers a cultural experience

People who go to bookshops are looking for inspiration. Being able to browse through books encourages their curiosity. When they visit a bookshop, they get the idea that they are doing ‘something cultural’. They experience their visit to a bookstore as a genuine trip out, a pleasurable interruption in their day. Inspiration is a key stimulus for the sense of well-being: people who feel inspired like the idea of doing something new and putting their ideas into effect. They also feel better about themselves – more ambitious. Bookstores are typically places where they can acquire this form of inspiration, according to the people who visit bookshops.

3. Bookshops make an area better to live in by offering relaxation, inspiration and creativity

People who visit bookshops are often enthusiastic about the location and perceive their visit as a pleasant way of spending time. For some customer, it is a trusted spot where they are able to relax. People also see bookshops as a place for meeting others, for contact with friends or colleagues. Customers in bookshops do not therefore head immediately for their target but appreciate the opportunity to browse and to contact people with a similar mindset. In short, a visit to the shop has added value in its own right: it is an active experience, with significant social and recreational value.

4. The bookstore draws people into the shopping area

There is more economic value to bookshops than just their own turnover. The presence of the shop within a given shopping zone adds an extra attractiveness. Bookshops exude quality and their many cultural events and the products on offer let them contribute to the couleur locale. The surrounding shops can often benefit from that, for instance because of the additional passing traffic.

In short, the presence of bookshops also has a positive effect on the quality of life in an area and on the cultural and economic value. The ‘livability’ is a measure of the extent to which the surrounding area meets the requirements and wishes that people have for it. Bookshops are more than mere sales outlets: they also have a function as socio-cultural or recreational facilities. This lets them represent another additional and important economic value: good livability does after all lead to higher prices for premises and land.