So you’ve decided to buy a book. Congratulations. Reading’s endless health benefits range from alleviating depression to strengthening the brain (really!). But where is the best place to buy a book, other than Amazon who is dominating the book market to the dismay of local book stores and authors alike? Luckily there are some socially-conscious book buying alternatives to Amazon that can benefit your wallet, the environment, and also the authors who poured their souls into the books and should benefit as much as possible financially from your purchase. Check out these options before you are tempted to hit that order button on Amazon Prime.
1. Why buy a book…when you can swap one?
Someone near you probably has the exact book you are looking for, and you may have theirs. The question remains…how do you two connect? One of the most nostalgic and wholesome ideas you can find is the Little Free Library project, which involves making a freestanding box in your neighborhood where people leave and pick up books. Pinterest is full of thousands of design tips to create one of these and to instantly start connecting with your neighbors in this time of disconnection over your shared reading interest.
Freelance writer Sharon Geltner knows the power of a great book swap and uses Facebook to connect with others who also love them.
“I take part in many of these cool and fun alternative book buying and sharing initiatives on Facebook, which is home to many popular book lovers clubs. Some of these clubs set one day a week for members to trade and swap books or even sell used books outright. These literary loving communities are usually based in the USA, but readers from all over the world participate,” she said. Shipping costs can add up, so the groups advise domestically shipping the books “media mail” she recommends, and sellers who don’t want to pay international postage can still ship books if the buyer in the other country foots the cost.
What she loves the most is the sense of “real community” on the sites.
“Some of them range from a few hundred members to tens of thousands. Some are so successful on Facebook, they also start another branch on Instagram (or vice versa..) Some have celebrity tie-ins, most do not. Volunteers, as a labor of love, often do the administration work and serve as moderators,” Geltner said. She first became aware of book swaps after publishing her novel Charity Bashed. “Yes, we could purchase those books at a bookstore immediately, but these members are a special breed. They consume books like locusts shredding a wheat field in the Dust Bowl. But they usually swap on their own behalf to be able to afford their voracious, out of control, book habits.”
If you are seeking a book swap or reading community, Geltner recommends checking out:
- In Literary Love
- Spivey’s Club
- BOTM Mystery/Thriller Group
- RW BOOKCLUB or FANS OF REESE WITHERSPOON’S BOOK CLUB X VIRTUAL MONTHLY BOOK CHAT
- Bookworms anonymous
Other popular options include: PaperBackSwap, BookCrossing (register a book that you then leave in a public place for a new owner), BookMooch and BooksFreeSwap
2. Support small bookshops even when you can’t go to one
If you are still looking for a brand new book to be delivered to your house, but still want to support local bookstores, there’s a solution. The Guardian describes it as a “revolutionary moment in the history of bookselling” when Andy Hunter, founder of Bookshop, created a way for independent bookstores to have a virtual store on one site and still receive their full profit margin (30%). He told the Guardian it’s been a “wild ride,” and credits the success to the reader’s heart for local stores trying to survive the pandemic.
Author Suzanne Wylde, who wrote Moving Stretch, Feeling Happy, Feeling Strong and The Art of Coming Home, emphasizes how much better this setup is for authors as well.
“…I believe that sites like Bookshop.org are much better for authors because we are paid a percent royalty on the sale price, rather than the retail price (which was the case in the past), and because Bookshop.org is generally priced a little higher than Amazon, authors should get a better royalty,” she said. “My Moving Stretch book was £3 more on bookshop.org than Amazon, for example. It may seem like a small difference to shoppers looking to make a saving, but a trend like this can make a massive difference to authors in terms of being able to earn a living.”
Wylde also feels this allows for better representation from authors across “different sections of society” creating less elitism in writing. “Not so many people can afford not to work for a year or several, while they work on their book.”
“Most authors I know love their local bookshops and remember the bookshops of their childhood. While Amazon is great for easy access to information and convenience, if we want to be able to browse shelves to find something unexpected, or a book we love but had forgotten, and we want our children to have these experiences also, we need to spend money in places that help to make that possible,” she said.
Bookshop now works with more than 900 stores that have signed up in the US and recently started working with UK bookshops as well.
3. Buy (hard to find) used books over new
Who has more used books than eBay, including some of the hardest to find books around? Enter Alibris, which connects readers to thousands of independent sellers around the globe. With around 70 percent of their inventory is used, the odds of finding a lower priced item than Amazon are high. Their slogan, which was featured as a Jeopardy question, is “books you thought you’d never find.”
Rob Lambert, Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing, recalls running into a man at a hotel who ended up thanking him profusely for his work at the company. Alibris was the only place the man had been able to find a hard-to-locate title written by his great-great-grandfather 100 years ago.
“We want anyone who wants to sell books. From professors retiring from teaching who have a large bookshelf of books to sell…we support everyone from megasellers to mom and pop shops to [people] with a lot of books in their basement,” Lambert says. While both Alibris and Bookshop support small independent bookstores, Alibris also focuses on sellers who aren’t affiliated with a bookstore.
With over 270 million books, music items, and movies available, this comprehensive option can give you some hope of finding a rare book you didn’t think you’d find, from textbooks to trade books to antiques.