As a series of sweeping social distancing measures keep people home to stop the spread of the coronavirus, independent bookstores are among the many small businesses impacted by government-mandated shutdowns. Iconic indie bookstores like McNally Jackson in New York and Powell’s in Portland, Oregon, have laid off most, if not all, of their staff.
Fortunately, there are ways to help.
“Participate in whatever remote shopping initiatives stores offer,” said Drew Cohen, co-owner of the Writer’s Block, an independent bookstore in Las Vegas. “If they are doing online sales or if that bookstore works with Libro.fm, which is an audiobook service, this is a great time to get into audiobooks and to sign up.”
Other independent bookstore managers and owners agree. “We are community oriented (both locally and with the book community at large) and with the libraries and schools closed we are making an effort to make it as easy as possible to get books from us,” wrote Steve Saladino, manager of Skylight Books, a Los Angeles bookstore, in an email. “We are offering free Media Mail rate shipping on all book orders. These orders can be placed on our website or over the phone. We are also providing curbside pick-up for orders or purchases over the phone.”
Here are four concrete ways to help bookstores and their employees during this crisis:
Order books online
Check your local indie bookstore’s site to see if it’s doing online sales. IndieBound and Bookshop are also great resources that let you order books online; bookstores that partner with them receive higher commissions than they would at a site like Amazon.
Donate to bookstore workers
Many bookshop staffers have been laid off or placed on temporary furlough. You can help out by donating to them directly. The Book Industry Charitable Foundation, a resource for booksellers experiencing a financial emergency, is taking and matching donations. Powell's Books' union is accepting donations for laid-off employees here and laid-off employees at McNally Jackson have also set up a PayPal account here.
Find out if your local bookstore offers curbside pickup
Some independent bookstores like the Writer’s Block in Las Vegas and Books Are Magic in New York are offering curbside pickup, meaning you order on the phone or online and go get your book “like a pizza,” as a bookstore owner told the New York Times today. Call your local bookstore or browse its website to see if it has this service.
Sign up for Libro.fm
There’s never been a better time to get into audiobooks. Libro.fm is an audiobook service that works directly with independent bookstores. When you sign up for a (free) Libro account, you can choose the bookstore you would like to buy audiobooks from. Libro splits the profits with indie bookstores. You can become a monthly member, paying $14.99 for one audiobook or can buy audiobooks a la carte. Either way, Libro is currently offering a special where you can get two audiobooks for the price of one if you use the code “SHOPBOOKSTORESNOW.”
“People are going to be spending their time indoors while we lay low,” said Cohen. “We like that people are still invested in reading.”●
This post has been updated to include a link to donations for laid-off Powell's Books employees.