The bookshop is part of our culture and literary diet.
Whether you prefer the shiny shelves of Waterstones, or the organised chaos of second hand shops, browsing for books is a great source of joy for many readers. But while we wait to be able to run our hands along shelves brimming with possibility, it’s important to make sure we have these mecca’s of imagination to return to.
England’s most recent lockdown restrictions have made it the only country in the UK whose bookshops are closed. The Booksellers Association has called for them to be acknowledged as an essential service, helping bolster the survival of a dwindling industry in the face of unprecedented precarity. Meryl Halls, Managing Director of BA, wrote an open letter to the British government, highlighting bookshops as “lanterns of civilisation and, for many, beacons of hope.” She reminds the reader that books allow us to enjoy “the thoughts of others, the companionship of words, the comfort of escape”, things that are vital for “keeping the nation’s spirits up whilst they’re locked in their homes.” So, what can bibliophiles do to help keep book shops alive?
We’ve all heard the story of David and Goliath, and we’ve all delighted in how it plays out in You’ve Got Mail; a charming, independent bookshop facing up against a publishing powerhouse. Cut to 21 years later and, even without Tom Hanks’ and Meg Ryan’s chemistry, it’s as compelling a story as ever. Andy Hunter is this the David of books, confronting his mission’s Goliath, Amazon. The writer and co-founder of Literary Hub came up with Bookshop.org as an alternative to the conglomerate of consumerism, with the hope of reigniting people’s love of bookshops. “It’s not really about disrupting an industry,” he says, “it’s about reinforcing an industry.” While the website operates as a regular retail platform, its magic lies in the way our money is distributed.
You can connect with and buy from specific bookshops meaning they receive the profit directly, or use Bookshop as the middle man; they will add a percentage of the sale to a pool which is divided between all their associated shops every 6 months. They even have an affiliate programme, giving on-the-ground authors and book-lovers the opportunity to be part of their mission. Although in its infancy, the organisation operates across the UK and US, with plans to expand in the near future.
Sharing this ethos is Hive, an online network of 360 independent bookshops across the UK who benefit from a percentage of every sale. You can even choose your favourite store for part of your purchase to go to. Alternatively, if you’re looking for an environmentally low-impact way of purchasing books, World of Books is an excellent alternative to buying brand new. Although not linked to any brick and mortar bookshops, they are an independent UK based company selling cheap, high quality second hand books of all kinds, with a user-friendly website and international shipping (free for UK buyers!). Browsing their catalogue is a great way of finding new titles and hidden gems, and the knowledge you’re getting something preloved is an added bonus.
Visiting bookshops is just another activity in the long list of things we took for granted in a world that seems almost too different to remember. At a time where supermarkets are the only place we can physically browse for books, resist chucking the latest page turner in with your bread and milk. Shop with the people behind the words in mind. It may seem trivial, but in a world where all we have are the little things, why should we deprive ourselves of this one? So, don’t be disheartened; as long as people’s love of reading is alive, so too will bookshops be.
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