Have you seen the famous rom-com movie You’ve Got Mail where Tom Hanks (Joe Fox) runs “Fox Bookstores,” a major bookstore chain that starts to compete against Meg Ryan’s (Kathleen Kelly) family-owned “The Shop Around the Corner?” You remember how Fox Bookstores managed to put all of the indie bookstores out of business wherever they stepped foot? Do you remember how that fictional story ended - with Meg Ryan’s bookstore being out of business in a matter of a few months? Well, it’s no longer fiction.
Indie bookstores are dying. According to the American Bookseller Association (ABA), US retail bookstores sales were down 7.6% in 2019 as compared to 2018. Moreover, due to the COVID-19 lockdown, sales plunged even further; ABA’s surveys indicated that more than one indie bookstore closed every week in the pandemic. Unlike book-selling giants (something that rhymes with “Blamazon”) indie bookstores cannot lower their price just to increase their market share and sell books at a loss. On top of that, the giants’ commissions to booksellers are not…much.
So, amidst this epidemic of dying bookstores, many resources have sprouted to save and help the bookstores to preserve the feeling of belonging one gets in a small bookstore. In this article, I have listed a few of the resources that you can contribute to support bookstores. I hope you all consider changing the ways you have been buying books (if you don’t buy only from Amazon, kudos to you!)
Note: All things mentioned in the article aren’t restricted to NYC.
Bookshop was merely just a start-up in 2019, founded by Andy Hunter. You can think of Bookshop as the “Anti-Amazon,” where local bookstores directly sell their products with only 10% of their price going to Bookshop. E-commerce is one of the best ways to save bookstores, and increasing their profit margin is enough for them to survive. Many bookstores either don’t have the resources or the manpower to make their own websites, so Bookshop offers them a place to display their products.
On top of that, Bookshop also has an “Affiliate Program” whereas the name suggests, you can also earn a little bit of money with every book sold from your link!
Virtual Events/In-person Events:
Many bookstores try to foster a close-knit relationship with their readers, authors, and themselves. If you’ve followed one small indie bookstore for a long, you’ll know that they usually have close-knit, genuine relationships with their authors. Many of these stores hold free/paid events like reading with the author, book clubs, etc. These events are also one of the authentic parts of indie bookstores (even major book chains like Barnes and Noble). One of the ways to show your support is to attend these events virtually (and eventually, in-person) and actually involve yourself in the conversation.
Many bookstores offer membership programs (Barnes & Noble Program, Strand Bookstore’s “Book Hookup”). Go to the local bookstore you want to contribute to and ask if they have a membership program! If you are an avid reader, the membership will help you enjoy lots of benefits depending on the terms and conditions. I highly recommend asking about this!
Gift Cards and other merchandise:
Bookstores aren’t just about books. They have their own merchandise, their own specialty. Moreover, if you are fretting over what kind of books to get your relatives or friends, always consider buying a gift card - bookstores appreciate that! Directly buying their merchandise from their websites or in-person stores would highly benefit the bookstores as well!
Even if you don’t physically read books, you can still help indie bookstores. Websites such as Kobo (E-books) and Libro (for Audiobooks) allow you to buy directly from your favorite booksellers. Kobo also offers student’s discount.
If you know you’ll be interested in reading a book, you can always pre-order it from an indie bookstore. You don’t need big bookselling giants to place a pre-order order for you! Plus, often the books might come with a surprise element like the author's signatures, extra stories/scenes, free bookmarks, or candles, etc., in it!
Bookstores have helped me cultivate a sense of community among readers. If they did the same for you, I strongly suggest taking any of the above actions to support them. If you don’t need books urgently, you should make an effort to either go in-person, visit their website, or even just call and ask them to order the book you are looking for! At the end of the day, it’s up to us readers to help out these bookstores.
(P.S. - Please feel free to suggest more ways to support bookstores (just message me on Instagram @readingandbrewing.)