England thankfully still has lots of good indie bookstores, but many have gone to the wall in recent years. It’s not all Amazon’s fault (they do offer one of the few places you can get next-day delivery for a last-minute gift). But overall, the company has not fared well for indie bookshops. One reason is that they can price-cut, while indie bookstores to survive have to sell books at full price. Having said that, a book is a book – so paying a couple of pounds extra is worth it to support your local indie bookstore. Apps like LibroFM (for audio books) both let you support indie shops with each purchase.
a book in praise of bookstores!
In Praise of Good Bookstores is a wonderful and charming reflection on the importance of bookstores, by a devoted reader and lifelong bookseller. Do we need bookstores in the 21st century? And if so, what makes a good one. In this beautifully written book, the author (who directs one of the world’s finest bookstores in Chicago), pays loving tribute to one of our most important institutions. He considers how qualities like space, time, abundance and community find expression in good bookstores. And also predicts a future where bookstores endure.
In exploring the subject, the author draws on his lifelong experience as a bookseller, but also his upbringing as an Orthodox Jew. This spiritual and cultural heritage instilled in him a reverence for reading, as an essential part of a meaningful life. One of his central argument is the need for browsing, so we can move through space immersed in self-reflection.
In the age of one-click shopping, this is no ordinary defence of bookstores, but more an urgent account on why they are essential places of discovery and refuge that enrich communities that are fortunate enough to have them. Ron Charles calls ‘this elegant little book the most moving justification for the survival of bookstores, I have ever read’. Jeff Deutsch is director of Chicago’s Seminary Co-op Bookstores, which he helped incorporate as the first non-profit bookstore whose mission is bookselling.
good indie bookstores still exist!
Also read Diary of a Tuscan Bookshop, the true inspiring story of a woman who returned to the small village in the Tuscan hills where she was born, and open a tiny but enchanting bookshop on a hill, surrounded by gardens of roses. With less than 200 year-round residents, Alba’s shop seemed unlikely to succeed. But it soon sparked the enthusiasm of book nerds nearby and across Italy. After surving a fire and pandemic restrictions, her ‘Bookshop on the Hill’ soon became a refuge for a community.
Mr B’s Emporium is often voted England’s best indie bookshop. More like a comfy living room with armchairs for browsing, the Reading Spa gifts are legendary. You’re invited for a pampering in a sumptious bibliotherapy room. Then a bookseller will chat over tea cake to learn of your tastes, then you get a book voucher, mug, cloth bag and gift card to leave a happy bookworm!
If you order books online, we like Blackwell’s (much nicer than you-know-who if you don’t mind waiting a few days for your book, and runs a good affiliate program for bloggers). Bookshop is another option (books delivered to you or your local indie shop). Although Jeff Bezos recently announced he will give most of his fortune away, Amazon has killed off thousands of bookshops (the site also allows the sale of real fur). Money would be better used for plastic-free packaging and treating employees fairly.
why indie bookstores worry over Amazon
Danny Caine has taken it upon himself to be the champion of asking people to support indie bookshop owners (like him) over Amazon. Read his book 50 ways to protect bookstores. He recently wrote an open letter to Jeff Bezos, which is included in the book offering to take Jeff round his local area to meet real communities and to ‘treat him’ to a cup of coffee at the local indie bar, to try to make him see what his business is doing to local communities.
Danny explains in an interview that Amazon makes up for losses by selling discounted books on other items (like electronics). If he sold a $26.99 book for $15 (he’s in the US), he would make 43 cents. He writes ‘We have 10,000 books in stock. If we sold every one with a 43-cent markup, we’d make enough money to keep the store open for about 6 days’. He also writes of how indie bookstores do things that Amazon can’t – ‘bringing authors to town, working with writers and creating a safe welcoming place for people to browse books for an hour or three. Or feeding store cats. Or paying taxes’.
There are many people who are vehemently against purchasing anything from Amazon. But as mentioned above, if you suddenly need an important item for a baby, pet or elderly relative – it’s one of the few places these days where you can buy it for next day delivery. But for a book? Nah! Just wait a few days and have it delivered by an indie store. There are many reasons to do this. Just a few:
- Amazon still sells real fur, something that most online shops don’t do. Why buy books from a company that is supporting this barbaric trade? Donate old fur coats to help orphaned wildlife.
- Amazon does not pay fair taxes (in 2021, we lost around half a billion pounds through their clever accounting laws). This could have paid for umpteen nurses, doctors, pension top-ups, environmental clean-ups and much more.
- You only have to look online to read stories of pregnant and bereaved workers who have not been treated well. And considering the founder is one of the richest people on earth, Amazon workers are not the best-paid either.
- Amazon still uses plastic packaging, when by far it’s one of the companies that could afford to invest in non-plastic packaging alternatives like Flexi-Hex. ‘Reducing it substantially’ is not the same as not using it all, especially considering the huge numbers of deliveries sent out each day.
- Amazon is of couse killing off local indie stores, with around a third of the entire online market, and nearly 90% of people buying on a regular basis.
So in a nutshell – use Amazon if you need something urgently for a health reason for you and yours. But other than that – give it a miss and support your local bookstore (and other indie shops) instead!
the surprising story of Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos is the founder of Amazon and at time of writing, the third wealthiest person on earth. Elon Musk is one of the other top 3, showing that the world is now completely run by Internet billionaires. Both now seem to be getting involved in politics, a frightening prospect (especially if being ‘run by media’ contributes to the almost horrifying scenario that Trump could again become the US President).
The really surprising fact about the founder of the company that has sucked all the creativity out of life – is that he attended a Montessori school. These (private) schools have children who don’t use computers until much later on, and are purposely designed to create more creative and free-thinking children (as far away from ‘clone-like superstores’ as you can get. And Jeff apparently is very thankful for his education), and regularly donates to Montessori causes.