Academic books retailer Blackwell is closing its head office and decentralising power to its individual stores as it creates a new ownership structure.

The bookseller plans to hand control of head office functions to stores and shut down the head quarters in Oxford, meaning 25 staff are now in consultation with the retailer. 85% of  buying is already done through stores.

Blackwell will retain a small administration staff at a unit in Oxford and Gareth Hardy, currently head of buying, will remain in his role. But the bookseller said it wants to “strengthen local accountability and autonomy significantly by devolving more of our current head office activity into individual bookshops”.

The transition will largely be complete by December. 

Blackwell chief executive Andrew Hutchings said:: “These changes will make Blackwell stronger for the future – taking the company back to profitability and ensuring we retain a strong bookselling presence in universities and university towns across the country.”

As part of the restructure, staff will also be eligible for shares in the company, which is expected to return to profit in 2011/2012.

Non-executive chairman Trevor Goul-Wheeker told the Bookseller: “Both moves are about reinforcing ownership, responsibility and sharing success in our individual bookshop teams; one is devolving authority and functions, and the other is giving them the ownership of the business, and the sharing of rewards.”

In March, Blackwell revealed it had narrowed its operating losses from £11.3m to £10.2m in the year to June 27. It said at the time that it would conduct a further review of its business due to increased competition from online booksellers and supermarkets.

Blackwell said it is “pleased with the strong year on year sales” that it is delivering “particularly in light of the sales decline reported in the overall book market and that some of our competitors are experiencing”.

The chain has 77 shops.