Before I worked in publishing directly I spent almost five years as one of the store managers at a pretty big indie bookstore in New York. I’d grown up visiting this bookstore. I still remember buying my first Harry Potter book there in 1999, going to midnight release parties, and meeting some incredibly influential authors at events and signings. My friends and I spent hours there when we couldn’t afford to pay for activities that cost money, I did homework there, I cultivated my own love of reading there and eventually built my (pretty sizable) library from their inventory. This independent bookseller was—and thankfully continues to be—a staple of our community.
Unfortunately, in the age of Amazon—and now the combined era of COVID-19 quarantine restrictions on independently-owned businesses—independent bookstores have been struggling. More and more businesses are shutting down either temporarily or permanently, are working with bare-bones staff and truncated hours, and are working hard to find ways to replicate their unique, personal shopping experiences while still staying competitive and, even more importantly, safe for both shoppers and staff.
In their own words, “Bookshop is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores.” They openly refer to themselves in direct opposition to Amazon – they want to be one-stop-online-shop for indie bookstores and their supporters. And so far—as far as I can tell—they’re succeeding.
How Does Bookshop Support Indie Bookstores?
Bookshop has a few different methods for supporting indie bookstores, both financially and promotionally.
First, if you have a particular local bookstore you want to support, you can. Use the “Find a Bookstore” search to find any participating indie bookstore in the country and order books “through” them. Bookshop acts as the distributor and online retailer. They handle all order fulfillment, which means you don’t have to worry about the specific bookstore’s inventory or turnaround time for orders, but the bookstore you choose earns the full profit off your purchase (that’s huge).
Alternatively, if there isn’t a particular store you want to support but you still want to buy from indie bookstores, you can shop directly through Bookshop. 10% of the profits from those purchases go into an earnings pool that is evenly distributed to indie bookstores (all of them) around the country every six months.
Bookshop also helps promote small businesses by letting shoppers know if there are any indie bookstores nearby, offering shoppers the option to opt-in for individual bookstores’ mailing lists, and highlighting curated lists of book recs from participating bookstores!
What About Browsing?
One of the things I miss the most about my bookstore days (and about my pre-quarantine days) is bookstore browsing. I could spend hours lost in the stacks—yes, even when I was working in a bookstore and knew half the store inventory by heart, there was still always something new to find—and there’s definitely a certain part of that experience that is lost in online shopping.
That being said, Bookshop offers the opportunity for bookstores and other affiliate users—book review platforms, media outlets, book bloggers/vloggers/bookstagrammers, etc.—to create their own curated lists of featured books. These lists get featured on each individual bookstore page; like this list of Funny Reads from BookPeople or this list of books on How to Write a Memoir:
Participants and affiliates can also create lists curated by genre that can be featured on the Bookshop.org homepage or at the top of the different genre pages when browsing the site. Check out some of the highlighted lists in Biography & Memoir or Self-Development & Hobbies or general Nonfiction. Maybe you can’t go into your favorite indie and get a personal recommendation, but these curated lists are a great place to start!
How Does it Work?
All the best intentions in the world don’t mean anything if the service isn’t worth it, right? Well, don’t worry – Bookshop works as well as you would hope. Immediately after your purchase, you’ll get an email confirming your order, including tracking information. You’ll also have the option to create an account on Bookshop that will keep track of your order history and your tracking details all in one place.
Their shipping costs are pretty reasonable and delivery times aren’t bad at all – no, they’re not Amazon with free shipping and two-day delivery but hey, the whole point is that they aren’t Amazon and that’s why we want to support them. They also do a great job of keeping in touch – several of the orders I’ve placed have been either pre-orders or books that were back-ordered when I purchased them, and Bookshop kept me in the loop on when they were back in stock and when they were shipped.
So…Is Bookshop Worth It?
Well – that’s up to you, isn’t it? If you’re an avid Amazon shopper more interested in getting the best deal and fastest turnaround time than supporting independent booksellers then no, Bookshop probably isn’t worth it for you. But if you are looking for ways to support your favorite indie bookstores (and get some great books delivered right to your door) and you’re willing to pay standard retail price instead of an unprofitable discounted price, Bookshop.org might just be your new favorite site.
Support Local Bookshops
I’ll even make it easy for you. You can always search your hometown and find your favorite local bookstore to support yourself, but if you’re not tied to any one bookstore (or looking to spread the wealth a bit) here are a few of my favorite stores to grab your next good book from:
- The Lit. Bar is the only indie bookstore in the Bronx, just opened up in April 2019, and is one of the coolest bookstores I’ve ever been to. They’ve quickly become an essential part of their community and it’s so important for them, as the only bookstore in the Bronx, to stay open and accessible.
- In addition to having a great name, Semicolon Bookstore is the only black woman-owned bookstore in Chicago! They’ve put together some great curated lists of recommended books, check their store out and see where your browsing takes you.
- If you don’t know, Lulu is located in the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina, which is lucky enough to have several incredible local indies, including friends of Lulu:
- Of course, I have to end this post the way I started it – sharing my love for one of my favorite places in the world, the Long Island institution that I literally grew up in even before I got paid to be there: Book Revue.
Shop indie! Shop local – even if local is 500 miles away! Support indie bookstores in marginalized communities and indie bookstores owned by BIPOC entrepreneurs and indie bookstores that are fighting back against that jungle website. Most importantly, enjoy whatever great new books you buy from Bookshop.org!