The convenience and lower prices offered by online retailers have made it challenging to support independent bookstores.
During the pandemic lockdowns of 2020-21, many brick-and-mortar businesses closed. This trend included hundreds of bookstores. The pandemic showed us that, particularly when times are tough, it’s hard to deny the lure of convenience and price offered by large online retailers.
But not all independent bookstores perished during the pandemic. In fact, while most survivors scraped through, some flourished. Surprisingly, new independent bookstores opened during and after lockdowns.
Maybe this potential resurgence shouldn’t be so surprising. If we learned anything during the pandemic, we were reminded of the importance of physical places to explore culture in our local communities.
The importance of shopping local
Imagine two options:
A. going to your local cafe to visit for an hour or so with a friend.
B. brewing a favorite cup alone in your own kitchen.
Both are potentially good and healthy options. But what would our culture be without that local cafe?
Imagine two more options:
A. going to a local venue with friends to take in some live music.
B. staying home alone to stream music on your favorite music app.
Both are potentially good and healthy options. But what would our culture be without that local venue to support budding musicians?
Imagine two more options:
A. going to a local theater or arts club with friends to take in a live performance.
B. staying home to stream movies on your favorite app.
Both are potentially good and healthy options. But what would our culture be without that local venue to support budding performers?
We could add many other examples that demonstrate the importance of physical places in our communities that promote arts and culture.
Similarly, independent bookstores add life to our communities. That doesn’t mean that online book retailers are unimportant. In fact, online book retailers have helped connect readers, authors, and publishers in unimaginable ways. Both are potentially good and healthy options.
Still, what would our culture be without readers who support independent bookstores?
A 2020 Harvard Business School study revealed that the number of independent bookstores in the US grew 49% from 2009 to 2018. Beyond 2018, some independent bookstores are reporting a “resurgence” since 2021. Some Canadian booksellers reported a post-pandemic rebound in sales.
Even if some indie bookstores are experiencing growth, it’s still an uphill struggle for many. A large number of local bookstores are working hard to keep their doors open and find their way into a “new normal.”
Creative ways for readers to support independent bookstores
Among the Harvard study’s recommendations to indie booksellers was: “Communicate the value of community and encourage customers to participate in a broader movement to shop local.”
As a reader, if you want to support independent bookstores, the best and most obvious way is to physically shop at your local bookstore.
But if you cannot make it to your local bookstore, here are some alternatives that still allow you to support your local shop:
- If they have an online bookstore, buy your books there.
- Shop online at bookshop.org where you can select a nearby bookstore to support. That shop will receive a percentage of your purchase. Bookshop.org will ship your book to your door, just like other online retailers do.
- Use IndieBound to find a book and they will help you find it in a bookstore near you.
- If you give physical or electronic gift cards, consider buying them from your local shop or from bookshop.org
One more tip to help support independent bookstores
When you visit your local shop and buy a book, consider buying other merchandise they’re selling. Chances are that the shop receives a higher margin on other merchandise than they do on books. Those extra profits add up to help keep their business part of your local community.
Start shopping today
Make a plan to spend some time at your local bookstore. Find a new book or gift and maybe participate in a community event they sponsor.
If you cannot make it out this week, try searching for a new book at Bookshop.org
Or consider supporting IndieBound:
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