Bookshops have been increasingly struggling over the past few years due to big corporations like Amazon’s growth and accessibility – and the pandemic has only accelerated it. As lockdowns continue, bookshops have to find creative ways to serve their customers and communities. What can they offer during a pandemic whilst being endangered at the hands of online retailers and big chains?
Bookstores offer a place of comfort and a sense of community, making them unique compared to chains or big corporations. So, when England went into a second lockdown, The Booksellers Association demanded that England’s bookshops should be classed as essential to ensure their chances of survival into 2021 and preserve the uniqueness.
Keeping bookstores closed while allowing other retailers like WH Smith and supermarkets to continue selling books has seriously harmed independent stores. As cities go into strict lockdowns, a drastic fall in sales for bookstores is inevitable. When local bookstores were closed under COVID restrictions, many people preferred big corporations like Amazon for the ease of it, failing to appreciate the damage this could cause for the independent shops.
Independent bookstores have a vital role in the high street as they support the values of community and creativity. They provide a welcoming space for like-minded individuals and a sense of comfort in a fast-paced world. Local booksellers provide a personalised service which is a novelty they have. Having a friendly face when you enter the store, and the unique smell of bookshops is unmatched. Even though we benefit from new technologies and innovations, we should protect our local bookshops to keep this sense of community and culture.
Amazon: Not the best place to buy books from
At first, Amazon might seem like the most accessible and convenient option due to its shipping speed, low-prices and variety; however, we must consider if we have more socially conscious and ethical alternatives.
Amazon has been the subject of criticism after an expose of its employment practices and treating its UK warehouse “like cattle”. This led many customers to re-consider their buying options plus the e-commerce giant has a detrimental impact on authors and independent publishers.
A Boston-based author and independent bookstore owner Jamie Clarke urges his readers to buy his book from the publisher and not from Amazon. Due to Amazon’s cost-cutting tactics, and third-party sellers, the author often gets nothing when they should be getting royalties from the sale of new books.
For these reasons, it is crucial that we support independent bookshops as we not only support booksellers but also publishers and authors. If we have more sustainable and ethical options when it comes to purchasing books, why not support the local instead of unethical big corps?
Bookstores under lockdown
During the pandemic, local bookshops looked for new ways to serve their customers. Although it is not easy to compete with big corporations, some bookstores achieved success by selling books on their own website and offering free shipping.
Some independent booksellers serve their customers by delivering orders and recreating their community on social media through running virtual events. What stood out during the pandemic was the switch to a virtual community among booksellers, authors and readers. More people participated in book clubs, read more books in general as a result binge-reading became a trend in 2020.
As many people are reading more, taking part in book clubs and authors debut their novels via Instagram Live, we must consider socially conscious alternatives to big chains in order to support independent booksellers.
Local bookstores are doing their best to survive during a pandemic whilst being under the risk of big chains. Luckily, as readers, we have new options to support them. There are new and original platforms who spotlight independent booksellers in their outlet.
Online outlets to support independent booksellers: new alternatives
There are many socially conscious alternatives to Amazon that allows readers to buy books online while supporting their local independent bookseller.
Following its success in the US, the ethical platform Bookshop.org has arrived in the UK and promises an ethical and transparent platform. There are many independent bookshops in the UK that have been unable to create a functioning website where their customers can purchase books directly from them. Unlike big chains, Bookshop.org aims to boost sales at local retails rather than entice customers away. Through Bookshop.org, independent booksellers get 30% of the sale. In the UK, they have already raised £642,136 for local bookshops.
Another alternative is Hive.co.uk, which aims to give independent bookshops a chance to be seen online. You can choose which bookseller you want to support by using the map before you complete your purchase. There is also an option to collect your order straight from the store if you fancy popping into your local bookstore.
During a difficult time for everyone all around the world, it is no doubt that independent book retailers are struggling not only because of restrictions but also because of the unfair competition with big corporations.
It is our responsibility to support our local bookshops by thinking about our consumption practices and prefer a more socially conscious alternative in our purchases. Preserving our cultural facets like independent bookstores are very fundamental considering the sense of community and passing the cultural importance onto the next generation.