You may have heard independent bookstores are struggling right now. These hard times are hard on small businesses everywhere, and bookstores are suffering from a confluence of issues involving the pandemic and supply line issues throughout the publishing industry.
What does that mean for you and your local indie? They sure could use your support—and this year, they could use it right now. Because they anticipate supply chain disruptions and delayed inventory shipments during the upcoming holiday season, a few weeks ago the American Booksellers Association rolled out a new slogan for this year: October is the new December.
If you shop early, that goes a long way towards easing the pressure on indies later, during the traditionally brisk period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Here at Modern Mrs Darcy and on What Should I Read Next, we’re updating our own editorial calendar accordingly: this year we’re publishing our gift guides earlier than we ever have before. This is why.
What if you don’t have a local independent bookstore? Most of these tips are applicable to bookstores anywhere, whether they’re right down the road from you or halfway around the world. And most of these tips apply to any small business in your community or elsewhere.
Whenever I buy books, I’m reminded of something author and devoted book-buyer Anna LeBaron said on What Should I Read Next several years ago: when you buy books, you are a patron of the arts. That sounds lofty, and she said it with a wink and a smile—though perhaps that had something to do with the fact that she said you remain a patron of the arts even if you don’t read every book you buy right away, or ever. But it’s the truth, and many readers (including myself) have taken her words to heart.
Please note that while collective financial support is crucial for our bookstores to keep the lights on, you can support businesses you love without spending a dime, and you’ll see that reflected in the list below.
10 ways to support your favorite independent bookstores
1. Pay them a visit. Of course, we need to preface this by saying: stay safe and follow health department guidelines. But I do hope you can visit in person—and if not now, soon—because an empty bookstore is a lonely bookstore. Pop by in person, enjoy the atmosphere, pick up a book that catches your eye, tell the booksellers you’re glad they’re there.
2. Pick up a book. Independent bookstores exist to sell you books. That’s what they do best! When you spend your book-buying dollars with them, you play a small part in letting them continue doing what they do. I think it was Wendell Berry who once said that with every purchase, we vote for the work we want to see in the world. When you buy books from indies, you vote for their work to continue.
If you want to make them feel really good, grab a book from their staff picks section, or pick up a book by a local author. (Many indies stock or can get you signed copies of books by local authors. Carmichael’s Bookstore here in Louisville has signed copies of all my books; all you need to do is specify “signed copy” in order comments. The process is just as easy at many indies across the country.)
3. Follow them on social media. This is a free and easy way to show you value what they do and stay informed about what they’re up to. (Personally, I love to see social media posts about what my favorite booksellers are reading.)
It’s a big help to booksellers to “like” their posts when you see them in your feed. Because of the confounding algorithms that simple “like” goes a long way to increase their accounts’ visibility. (This isn’t just true for bookstores.)
4. Sign up for their newsletter. Show them you care, plus get all the scoop on new releases, upcoming events, and community needs, for free.
5. Go to their events. When you attend events—whether that’s in-person (one day) or virtual—your presence signals that you value that event. Your presence at a bookstore event is always noted, and matters a great deal to stores, publishers, and authors.
It’s worth saying, especially in this unprecedented era of plentiful virtual events, that buying a book—even if just occasionally—from these events sends a strong signal to the hosts that these events matter, and are worth the resources it takes to put them on.
6. Support them with your audiobook purchases. When you choose to get your audiobooks through Libro.fm, you support the independent bookstore of your choice with every purchase. I’ve been a happy customer for years. (Click here to get started with two audiobooks for the price of one. If you need some great suggestions to get you started, click here to browse our audiobooks topical archive.)
7. Sign up for a subscription or buy a book box. Many indies feature monthly or quarterly book subscriptions, or special book boxes featuring themed selections.
(Heads up: next week we’re once again launching our MMD seasonal Book Club box, in partnership with the St Louis-area indie The Novel Neighbor.)
8. Go beyond the books. Indie bookstores carry more than a few of my favorite things: they often feature wondrously curated assortments of jigsaw puzzles, games, notecards, pens, notebooks, journals, mugs, and the list goes on! (At our last visit to my local indie, we bought a literary-themed face mask. My daughter loved wearing her new “book nerd” mask to school the next day!)
9. Plan ahead. Your indie can get you just about anything you need, if you give them time to do it. (Today I’m visiting my local indie to pick up my own special order.) This is even more important in the current economic and publishing climate.
Shipping is taking longer for some bookstores, so order early, be patient, and extend compassion to employees who have had to figure out an entire new process for doing business in a short amount of time.
10. Say thanks. Do you love your local indie? Or the indies you follow on instagram? Tell them! They’d love to hear you appreciate what they do.
What are your favorite ways to support independent bookstores and other small businesses? Please tell us in the comments section!
P.S. Along these same lines: 7 free and easy ways to support your favorite authors.
P.P.S. I love to visit independent bookstores, and took these photos on my travels. From top to bottom, they are:
- RJ Julia, a wonderful Connecticut indie I got to visit on the first night of my Don’t Overthink It book tour.
- The VERY TALL shelves are at The Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca.
- The awesome book desk is at Denver’s BookBar.
- That’s me talking about I’d Rather Be Reading at Fort Worth’s Monkey and Dog Books.
- That mug from Parnassus Books was a much-appreciated (and now, much-used) gift from a friend.