With three Kent bookshops shutting in one month, there are fears it will be a similar story for others - especially as children become more used to swiping phones than turning pages.
But despite the huge technological changes of the past 20 years, some stores in the county are changing the narrative, as Millie Bowles reports…
Some youngsters have become so accustomed to using a smartphone, that when they are presented with a book, they try to swipe the pages like they would on a screen.
So says Adam Taylor, owner of the children’s novel store The Classroom in Westgate.
He sadly had to shut his shop for the last time on Sunday - becoming the third bookstore in Thanet to close in the space of a month.
Broadstairs Book Shop shut down after 20 years with its owner’s retirement, while Moon Lane Books in Ramsgate has moved all operations to its Whitstable branch.
Elsewhere in the county, The Bookmark in Rainham shut its doors in May after 31 years of trading.
Mr Taylor told KentOnline: “We could not sign another lease.
“The profit we had for each week didn’t cover two hours of wages for a member of staff, let alone the rent.
“We are not the only children’s bookshop struggling at the moment.
“It’s a generational thing and everything is tighter at the moment.”
The 40-year-old has been running his business, which will continue delivering tuition to children, for 19 years and set up the shop in Station Road in 2017.
“A lot of people have told me they see children swipe books like they are swiping a phone...”
Working in the education sector, he has been told of worrying behaviour from youngsters learning to read.
The father-of-two explained: “It’s not something I’ve seen, but a lot of people have told me they see children swipe books like they are swiping a phone, rather than knowing to turn the pages, so it’s a cultural situation as well.”
However, the biggest reason for the closure of The Classroom has been the cost-of-living crisis.
“It’s generally grandparents buying books as they have more disposable income,” Mr Taylor said.
“People have to prioritise right now and books are no longer a priority.
“We do tuition as well and 40% of customers’ direct debits bounced in May.”
E-books have not been a major issue for the store, as they tend to be used by adults rather than children.
The Classroom was a partially charitable service too, with 20% of the price of purchases going to a school library of the buyer’s choice.
Schools could then spend that cash to stock their shelves.
The closure was especially sad, as The Classroom had recently been voted Kent’s best bookseller in the Muddy Stiletto awards.
Another bookshop that felt the pinch this year was Book Bodega in Ramsgate, which went viral after a post in February on X (then known as Twitter).
Owner Sapphire Bates wrote: “Winter is killing us, it’s so quiet and we need to make £800 by Tuesday to pay our bills. Please shop with us and help us stay open!
“I know if we can make it through the next month or two then we will make it through our first year of trading successfully.”
The tweet was quickly picked up by some of the country’s best-known authors like Adam Kay, as well as story-lovers across the world.
Ms Bates’ appeal was seen by more than 700,000 people and - as she had hoped - the store is still going today.
According to The Book Guide, Kent has 39 independent literary stores.
Despite the challenges facing the industry, some are thriving.
Hall’s Bookshop, thought to be the county’s oldest, has been operating in Tunbridge Wells for 120 years.
The business has found a niche for selling antique and rare publications online, but manager Jon Gilbert reports the second-hand selling side of the business has “always been a struggle”.
“We couldn’t just rely on the walkthrough trade of the shop which is possibly why so many shops are suffering,” he said.
“For us, the second-hand side is always a struggle but we sell rare books online and take stock around the world to fairs.
“We also sell collectables. A generic second-hand bookshop wouldn’t necessarily have that.”
Mr Gilbert - who has worked at Hall’s for 31 years - worries about the future of traditional reading.
The 51-year-old added: “My kids all read on screens. Their first port of call won’t be a book – it will be a screen. It’s second nature.
“Very long term, in 20 or 30 years, I worry for the future of books.
“I do think in time the number of people who want a traditional book is going to be diminishing and I don’t know what we will do about that.
“Hopefully, there will always be people that want a real book.
“A general bookshop’s role is going to change dramatically.”
Despite the rise in e-books, audiobooks and Kindles, Mr Gilbert hopes paper novels will always have a place.
“I have to say I’m a fan of e-books - I think they do a very good job,” he said.
“You have your whole library there and you don’t have to take paperbacks in a bag on holiday.
“I think they are a great idea.
“A lot of people might make notes in the margin and put markers in it.
“You can’t do that with an e-book so physical copies will still have a purpose.”
Another bookshop which has a niche offer helping it survive is Catching Lives in Canterbury.
The charity shop is inside one of the city’s most iconic buildings - the crooked house in Palace Street.
Coordinator Janey Ireson said: “We’re doing fine. A lot of our customers - mostly during spring and summer - are tourists and they give a big boost to our takings.
“We are an iconic building on a tourist route. We’re really lucky that they come they come to our shop and love the wonky building.”
Mrs Ireson is also concerned about how reading will look in future generations, commenting: “I do worry about it.
“Most of our sales are adult special interest books but we do sell to children and I do think it’s a problem.”
According to statistics published by the National Literary Trust in September, there has been a 26% decrease in the number of young people aged eight to 18 who read daily in their free time since 2005 (decreasing from 38.1% to 28%).
While many would blame this on increased screen time, with the rise of smartphones, other research suggests some social media sites could be having a positive impact.
The 2023 What Kids Are Reading report found the number of books children read increased by almost a quarter year-on-year in 2021-22, with TikTok shaping reading habits.
The BookTok trend on the site is said to have increased interest and engagement in books such as the popular Heartstopper series.
Why I’m part of the problem, by Millie Bowles…
Unfortunately, as much as I hate to be, I am part of this problem.
When I was a child and a young teenager, I absolutely loved reading.
I would routinely be told off for staying up till midnight with a good book and a nightlight.
However, as soon as I got into social media, and was allowed to keep my phone in my room, I read less and less.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, but I struggle to concentrate on one piece of text that long.
I’ve become conditioned to TikTok where you’re on to the next subject in 30 seconds, and sadly, my For You page does not grace me with ‘book tok’ videos.
I would love to get back into reading and be able to support these bookshops more, and I think it shall be my New Year’s resolution.
Why I love reading, by Brad Harper...
After making dinner, the first thing I want to do is plant my feet on the footstool and pick up my book.
As someone with a high-pressure job and who shamelessly watches little TV, reading is my way of escaping without paying a fortune to travel to Barbados.
And bookshops bring great joy, peace and a sense of discovery into my life.
Although the internet is useful in finding what I plan on reading next, nothing beats the feel of new or second-hand novels - or the smell of shelves of books.
Discovering new books is great and the loss of bookshops would take away that great pleasure.