Photo: Logan Bush (Shutterstock)
The pandemic hasn’t been kind to independent bookstores. While indies have handled competition from Amazon and big-box sellers relatively well in recent years, having to shut their doors due to COVID-19 and respond to customers’ desire for online ordering has not been easy—and despite the American Association of Publishing noting steady book sales amid the pandemic, bookstore sales dropped 30.7 percent in August, according to industry newsletter Shelf Awareness. If you want to keep indie bookstores alive, consider directing some of your holiday gift-buying budget toward your local independent bookseller. We’ve rounded up a number of ways you can support indies this season.
Heads up, though: if you are going to gift books and book-related items, start shopping and ordering now. Indie booksellers can always use your support—and ordering earlier can help them manage their inventory and meet demand ahead of the holidays.
Order directly from your local indie
Some booksellers responded to the pandemic by setting up shop online and offering pickup, local delivery, or both. Search for indie bookshops in your neighborhood or city to find out what they’re doing. IndieCommerce has a directory of independent sellers that handle e-commerce.
Shop on IndieBound or Bookshop
If you can’t easily get a book from a store up the street, try IndieBound or Bookshop instead of defaulting to Amazon. IndieBound has a zip code search that directs you to local booksellers that have your desired title(s) in stock, while Bookshop allows you to either select a local seller to receive 100% of the profit from your order or to put your money into a pool that’s distributed among member shops.
Note: IndieBound will also connect you to Bookshop if it can’t find titles in stock in your area. Twitter users have suggested that Bookshop’s shipping times are actually comparable to Amazon’s and that the customer service is (unsurprisingly) far better.
Shop for non-book gifts
Many, if not most, indie bookstores sell more than just books. As writer Celeste Ng points out, you can order jigsaw puzzles, apparel, tote bags, and other book-adjacent gifts (coffee mugs with a literary quote, anyone?). Try to find all of your stocking stuffers–bookmarks, pens, magnets, socks—there too, along with your holiday cards.
Gift a subscription to Libro.fm
If audiobooks are more your friends’ and family’s thing, gift them a membership to Libro.fm. The platform allows you to choose a local, independent bookstore to receive a cut of the profit from each subscription. You can also gift individual audiobooks.
Gift an indie seller gift card
If you’re not sure about a gift recipient’s taste in books, send them a gift card to their local indie or your local indie.
Put together DIY book packages
Get creative with your gift-giving with themed book and book-adjacent packages. This Twitter thread from author Rebecca Makkai has a long list of ideas, from a city-specific gift box to a food-and-book (wine-and-book?) pairing, to a book and film package from the recipient’s birth year. A few more we like:
- Long-distance book club: Send the same book to a group of friends along with an invite to a Zoom gathering and a cocktail recipe card.
- Cookbook and spice package: Gift your food-loving friends a cookbook plus any hard-to-find ingredients.
- Free Little Library: Gift a Free Little Library box filled with wrapped books to a friend who has a yard.
Many indies will wrap orders, too, so you can have items sent directly to friends and family.
Stop by for a cup of coffee
If your indie bookseller is open and serving coffee and food, stop in when you can (and follow all safety rules when you do).