Most indie bookstores have struggled, since the advent of supermarkets, chainstores and Amazon. But paying a few pounds extra for a book is not the most expensive indulgence, and the thought of losing our indie bookstores should be enough to help spur us into action. If we let the indie stores fold, we’ll be left with big shops selling celebrity cookbooks, and little else. Amazon can afford to discount books by a little, but what we lose in return is worth far more. And buying locally also means you can walk to the store and avoid all the plastic packaging and delivery charges. Most indie bookstores can order in anything you need within 24 to 48 hours, so give them a go. And if you’re a bookworm, most smaller stores have loyalty cards, to help you save a little moolah too.
In Oregon, Powell’s is the largest indie bookstore in the world, and there is a lot we could learn from them. Borders it isn’t. It sells used and new books, has an online affiliate program to rival Amazon and the people who work here are book nerds (the third generation owner says they don’t have ‘weird customers’, as everyone in Portland is a bit odd!) She says if she were not running Powell’s, she would likely work in a library.
If you shop online in England, download Bookindy. This is a free app that you can use to browse on Amazon, then it uses the technology against itself, to bounce you back to an indie store, to buy with free delivery! If you don’t have a local indie bookstore, then shop at Blackwell’s. This is an Oxford indie bookstore that has a wonderful site (it only sells book, not fur coats like Amazon) and has an affiliate program that is simpler and better than Amazon (we use it for this site!) Another alternative is Bookshop (recently launched in the US, it’s here too and allows you to buy books online, then donates to your chosen indie bookstore, millions have been raised so far). Again it runs a good affiliate program for bloggers and website owners.
Books to Buy at Indie Bookstores
- Bookshop Tours of Britain is a slow-travel guide (by an indie publishing company of course!) that takes you on 18 tours around the country, visiting beaches, castles, coal mines and whisky distilleries, with a little bird-watching, hiking and canoing thrown in. The book tours journey from the Jurassic Coast, over the mountains of Wales, through England’s industrial heartland, up to the Scottish Highlands and back down through the Norfolk Broads and into London.
- Seven Types of People You Find in Bookshops is a book by an indie bookseller in Scotland, who details his 20 years of people-watching. Step inside to meet a crafty Antiquarian, a shy and retiring book browser and teh gormless (but strangely likeable) shop assistant Hugo. The author spends his free time – shooting Amazon Kindles in the wild!
- The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap is the lovely story of a couple in the US (one originally from Scotland) who as Amazon Kindle was taking off, decided to take to the mountains and set up a second-hand bookstore. Knowing nothing of the business – all they had was themselves, their animal friends and a real love of books. But even though others thought they were mad – not only did they succeed, but they created something else. A community.
- How to Resist Amazon (and Why) is a great little read by the owner of a US indie bookstore. It’s an open letter to Jeff Bezos, and to us (asking readers to join his peaceful process to take back power). He writes to Jeff ”Small business owners are led to believe that if their idea is good enough, they can grow their business and create more jobs. Maybe we can talk over pie and coffee at Ladybird Diner across the street, my treat. I’d love to show you around a vibrant community, anchored by small businesses’.
Support Our Indie Publishers
Another way to help the book industry is to support indie publishers. It’s true that now and then a really good book is published by a mainstream publishing house, but most focus on profit – so it’s celebrity cookbooks and biographies. Yet the small indie publishers often publish the best books, because they do it more for love (most will confirm that they don’t make any money!)
Another issue is the planet. Some small publishers print on 100% post-consumer recycled paper, which is the only way to avoid trees getting chopped down in their millions, just for something to read. There’s actually something really nice about reading books that aren’t on glossy virgin paper, knowing you are not contributing harm, while supporting writers who live on very little, for their craft. The small publishers also tend to print in small runs, so they don’t waste lots of paper and toxic inks to over-print books, that end up on sale in The Works! Here are a few you may like to support (buy direct if you can, to give them more money!)
- Countryside Books offers lovely walking guides for people, dogs, pubs and tea rooms. Just look up your region. Countryside Dog Walks also publish nice regional guides.
- The History Press offers nice books focusing in local areas – from a potted history of Somerset to local shops in Bristol to the architecture of the Cotswolds. Find a short history of the Fens and a book exploring the rivers of Cornwall.
- Pocket Mountains offers nice miniature walking guides with beautiful illustrated covers, that focus on coast and mountain walks, also cover Scotland.
- Saraband publishes award-winning books on environmentalism and nature. This is a platform for often overlooked authors. As is Little Toller Books (named after a river valley in Dorset) that publishes books on nature and rural life. They recently picked up the talent of autistic teenager Dara McAnulty, who won the Wainwright Prize with his debut book Diary of a Young Naturalist.
Only Read Good Books!
This sounds daft, but a good idea. There are billions of books, and only so many you can read. A good way to find good books is to visit your indie bookstore. The owners will be book nerds who will know the latest releases, and most have little booklets full of good books to read. You could also read books shortlisted for the Rubery Book Awards (like the Booker Prize, but for small indie publishers). For nature books, The Wainwright Prize is regarded as the one with the best nominees. The site lists all present winners and finalists, for good reading fodder at the bus stop!
If you like to travel but personal circumstances mean you are unable, go exploring by book instead! Read in your favourite armchair or find a nice shady spot in the garden, make some homemade lemonade (or grab a cuppa) and explore within the pages of these gems:
- The Frayed Atlantic Edge is a historian’s journey from Shetland to the Channel. Nature writer David Gange kayaked the weather-ravaged coasts of Atlantic Britain and Ireland from north to south, paddling alone in sun and storms. He came across dozens of whales and countless seabirds, and experiences a Shetland summer (do they have such a thing?!), a Scottish winter and an Irish spring, before reaching Wales and Cornwall.
- The January Man is the story of a year of walks across the British Isles. Christopher Somerville walks from winter floodlands of the River Severn to the towering seabird cliffs on the Scottish Shetland Isles to the oaks of Sherwood Forest in Autumn. He describes the history, wildlife, landscapes, peope, lanes and old paths.
- One Man and His Bike is the story of Mike Carter, who cycled to the office one day. But feeling depressed, he kept on going – embarking on a 5000 mile journey around the entire British coast. He encountered drunken priests, drag queens and gnome sanctuaries, and found a spirit of kindness and generosity to convince him that Britain was anything but broken.
- Wonderland takes you around Britain, to meet blackbirds, beavers and beetles, to tawny owls, natterjack toads and lemon slugs. From encounters with curious black redstarts (which winter on our rocky coasts) to tiny green snowdrop shoots. Where days start with hawker dragonflies, drowsy bumblebees & deer in Richmond Park in the autumn mist: and end with glow-worms.
Where to Donate Good Books
Donate or recycle books you don’t read (if there are ones that are damaged or you don’t want to share on, due to outdated subject matter, just recycle the pages and bin the glued spines). Then spend a few pounds more in an indie bookshop, to read books that are worth reading!
- Little Free Libraries & Lending Sheds is a book to explain this worldwide movement. Began in the US, you build a little library (that looks like those cute letterboxes from Disney cartoons) then fill it with books for others.
- BookMooch is a site where you can swap books that you’ve already read. You then earn points to ‘buy’ books that you’d like to read.
- BookCrossing is anotehr website. This one lets you ‘release your books to the wild’, by leaving them somewhere noted online (say in a cafe). Then people pick up your book, read it and then ‘release’ it somewhere else. You can watch your donated book journey across the world!
- Give a Book is a charity that donates books to children, schools and people in prison. Haven also donates books to prisoners. Whatever your views on prison (punishmenet or rehabilitation), most prisoners reoffend, often because they are locked up 23 hours a day with no inspiration to change their lives. Reading books helps to create a different mindset (obviously uplifting educational books are accepted, certain books are not).
In Praise of Good Bookstores is an eloquent and charming reflection on the importance of bookstores. Beautifully written, Jeff Deutsch (the director of one of the finest indie bookstores in the world in Chicago) pays loving tribute to one of our most important and endangered civic institutions. He considers how qualities like space, time, abundance and community find expression in a good bookstore. And explores why good bookstores matter. Indie bookstores also give the value of browsing (deep in the act of moving through space, as though we are inside the mind itself, immersed in self-reflection). In an age of one-click shopping, this is no ordinary defense of bookstores. But rather an urgent account of why they are essential places of discovery and refuge that enrich communities that are still fortunate enough to have them.