Beginner’s Guide on Starting a Bookstore Business in the United Kingdom

Starting a Bookstore Business in the United Kingdom World Book Day is a UNESCO event celebrated on the 23rd of April every year. Its 2020 statistics indicate that one in every five British people consider themselves avid readers. Not surprising, considering the very first book ever published was in the UK in 1473 by William Caxton. Starting a bookstore business can be both a successful and satisfying venture, especially for the book enthusiast.

Statistics on book retailers in the UK suggest that the pandemic has shifted demand to audio and electronic books. As a result, physical stores that used ancillary strategies such as combining bookstores with cafés, etc., are also seeing a downtrend. Further, the rise of self-publishing authors who use online platforms to sell their works also impacts book sales.

However, that does not mean the end is nigh for bookstores in the UK. The Booksellers Association (BA) indicates that independent bookstores in the UK show a consecutive year-on-year rise. Proper planning, some innovative strategies, and hard work can transform any business into a success story. This guide has the vital information that entrepreneurs need to know before beginning their entrepreneurial journey.


What is Bookstore Business?

A bookstore or bookshop is any business that retails or sells books and their related paraphernalia. This is regardless of whether it’s a good old-fashioned physical store, online-only, or a hybrid of both. As long as the sale of books is its primary business, then it is a bookstore. In the UK, a bookstore can operate as an independent business or part of a chain.

Independent or ‘indie’ bookstores tend to have more character and allow for greater personalization. As an indie bookseller, you can choose your business model and outfit it to your liking. Bookstores that are part of a chain such as Waterstones or Borders will need to follow their franchise agreement. This dictates the type of books to be sold, layout and fit-out, business model, etc.

One popular type of bookstore in the UK is the second-hand or used books bookstore. They are a great place to find bargains, and lucky finds sometimes include signed editions. London also has a floating barge that doubles as a bookstore. This is similar to the Logos Hope, the world’s largest floating library and bookstore, which operates as a charity.

Modern bookstores tend to have multi-merchandising strategies, selling books along with magazines, toys, stationeries, and logo merchandise. Some even branch out and add a café concept with coffee, cakes, and light sandwiches. Digital bookstores also branch out with online book clubs, virtual reading sessions with authors, etc.


Key Steps in Starting a Bookstore Business in the United Kingdom

A stitch in time saves nine – similarly, a well-written business proposal ensures your plans don’t unravel prematurely. Procedures for starting a bookstore business in the UK should have a multi-tiered business strategy. It should include market research, data on competition, location viability, range of multi-merchandising to complement book sales, etc. This will enable you to launch your bookstore business with the most impact and chance of success.

As mentioned above, the old bookstore model may find it hard to adapt to the new landscape. Independent stores are facing a challenging time from online retailers such as Amazon, ASDA, etc. However, these stores can find success by pivoting and innovating on tried and tested business strategies. Some ideas include:

  • Hybrid stores – physical stores that also leverage online platforms such as Amazon.
  • Events driven – promoting in-store or online events that attract organic footfall.
  • Niche – specializes in second-hand or antiquarian books, academic publications, or even selling overruns at lower prices.
  • Create awareness – active social media presence, strong loyalty and fan base, etc.

Once you have settled on a business strategy, the next thing to do is register your company. You can operate as a sole trader or a partnership, a limited liability partnership, or a limited liability company. These are the more prevalent business entities – some are incorporated, and each comes with its pros and cons. Business incorporation is done with the Companies House, while tax and VAT registration is with HMRC.

If you’re unsure or want more information, business solution firms such as 3E Accounting United Kingdom offer assistance. Our experts can explain why incorporation, with its limited liability, might be the best entity for your business, etc. We can also help you register for taxes, open a bank account, and everything else a business may need. Do check out our guide to company registration in the UK for a more detailed look at getting started.


What Does a Bookstore Business Need?

The first thing that pops to mind is books, and you will need these in quantity and variety. The type of books you stock or sell will depend on whether you have decided on the niche. If you’ve chosen a brick-and-mortar shop, do research on location such as viable footfall and possible niching categories. For example, if you’re next to a university, academic textbooks should be the bulk of your inventory.

If you’re going fully digital, then the inventory will be your biggest concern, followed by logistics. Where you source your books, how you store them, and deliveries will need serious consideration and planning. Of course, these will impact your budget and cash flow as well.

Investing in reliable book inventory management systems is a smart and crucial move. It is quite simply the most efficient way to keep track of all your products. A good system will also analyze point of sales metrics, handle inventory, etc. Pair it up with great CRM or customer relationship management tools, loyalty programs, etc., and you’re all set.


What Approvals Do You Need for Bookstore Business in the United Kingdom?

The one area that you need to be highly diligent in is compliance and approvals. Generally, starting a bookstore business and selling books in the UK does not require specific licenses. However, you may need one if you’re selling second-hand or certain types of books. It’s always best to check with your local area authority if you are unsure whether you need specific approval.

If you’re multi-merchandising, then you will need permits for those, especially if you’re selling food and drinks. You may need to register with the local council and Food Standards Agency (FSA) as a food business. Your premises will also need certification from the environmental health department to ensure food safety and hygiene standards.

Other considerations include health and safety as well as fire safety requirements. You will need permits for streaming content or background music, having a signboard, etc. You should also be aware of the UK’s data protection rules if you handle, collect and store customer data. In this instance, you will need to register with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Also, as a retail business, do stay on top of the various retail legislations and the ensuing legal obligations. Public liability insurance is also must-have protection. If you require professional help with compliance, 3E Accounting has your back. As a United Kingdom corporate service provider, we offer comprehensive business solution packages to ensure you remain compliant.


How to Turn the Tide for Your Bookstore Business

The bookstore business is a competitive one; hence you will need sound strategies to stay ahead of the competition. Front and center should be a well-designed and intuitive website that gives your business a global edge. Get active on social media and create a larger-than-life persona for your bookstore business. Stage frequent events and publicity drives to ensure your bookstore becomes a household name as quickly as possible.

Along the same vein, getting involved with the local community as word-of-mouth recommendation is still a powerful advertising tool. Having promotions with local schools or universities, florists, hospitals, corporations, etc., will create awareness for your store. It also helps to join a trade organization that actively assists booksellers, such as the Booksellers Association. Reaching out to book wholesalers and publishers can also open a few doors for your business.

Consider having a niche section to your business – like one that specializes in tracking down hard-to-get titles. Building up a reputation as a bookstore that delivers can earn your business precious ‘brownie points’ with customers. Having a friendly return policy is another strategy that can set you above most of the competition. Pair that up with a motivated sales team, and you’re already building a solid fan base.



Reading books is an activity that will not be going out of fashion just yet. Whether it’s an e-book, a signed first edition or an academic journal, books are here to stay. Starting a bookstore business in the UK remains a very viable business idea for the discerning entrepreneur.

Starting a Bookstore Business in the United Kingdom

If you’re looking for end-to-end business start-up packages, 3E Accounting United Kingdom has just the right solution for you. Our team offers a decade of impeccable professionalism and global expertise for you to draw upon. Contact 3E Accounting today to learn more about our comprehensive, fully digitalized, and customizable UK company incorporation services.