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Balancing the books

Booksellers say expansion of free schoolbook scheme will have 'devastating effect' on shops

There are both financial and logistic concerns about how the scheme will operate successfully.

THE EXPANSION OF the free schoolbooks scheme to Junior Certificate students will have a “devastating effect” on business, Irish booksellers have said.

There are both financial and logistic concerns about how the scheme will operate successfully, given its growing scale.

The expansion follows the measures announced in Budget 2023, which made schoolbooks free for primary school students. The government was criticised at the time for excluding secondary school students.

However, while booksellers largely agree with the reasoning behind the expansion to more students – to ease the financial burden on parents – many are worried their business won’t survive it.

Tomás Kenny of Kenny’s Books in Galway City told The Journal that he is seeing “very serious concern” in the industry, as no retailer big or small has gone unscathed.

“People genuinely seem to be really, really worried,” he said.

“The amount of time and effort it takes now to deal with these orders has massively increased.”

All schools availing of the scheme are required to get quotes from three different retailers and must choose the cheapest.

As a result, Kenny says, some shops have had to give major discounts on products with already small margins to ensure they get any business. 

The drop in footfall in-store from parents this year has knocked stationery sales too.

“What has really hit home with people in the last month or so is when they miss that footfall of the parents coming in with the back to school kind of stuff … pens, pencils, whatever else,” said Kenny.

He added that the removal of VAT from audio books and e-books in Budget 2024 is another “worrying development”, posing further risk to physical booksellers.

Closures expected

Cian Byrne, owner of Maynooth Bookshop, hired 25% fewer summer staff this summer because, while turnover has increased, profits have plummeted.

He says most bookshops can only “keep the doors open” year round because of profits made from selling schoolbooks in the summer months.

“Bookshops are going to struggle massively because, like it or lump it, schoolbooks was a huge part of the book selling industry in Ireland and is the reason why a lot of bookshops exist in small towns up and down the country,” he said, adding that many shops “aren’t of a size to service a full school order”.

“It would be a lot of work for them, with very little return.”

He said Education Minister Norma Foley’s decision to expand the free schoolbooks scheme to secondary schools was expected, but retailers say they may not have the capacity to facilitate it.

“It’s going to be very complicated. It’s a lot more complicated than primary school,” Byrne said.

“There’s a lot more variation in what people need throughout the year. It’s not as simple as getting your English book, getting your Irish book, getting your handwriting book, like at primary school level. 

“How that’s going to be managed, I’m not sure.”

Byrne predicts that there will be a series of closures over the next year as a direct result of the scheme.

The Irish Times reported last month that Eason’s revenue was down  €2.5 million because of the scheme.


Bookselling Ireland, a representative group for book retailers, said it welcomes initiatives that ease the burden on families, but described the last year as “extremely challenging” for the industry.

It said schoolbooks represented an average of 30% of all sales before the scheme was introduced. Some shops “do not have the manpower or experience” to keep up with the extra work the scheme creates.

“An extension of this current scheme to include secondary school students will introduce a level of complexity that will be unmanageable for smaller local bookshops,” the group said in a statement.

The group urged Minister Foley to consider using a voucher scheme, which would allow the scheme to continue, without severe impact on footfall in shops.

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