4 Unexpected Ways to Support Indie Bookstores
Even if you're not James Patterson
A city without a bookstore…
I am sad to the point of moroseness. Our town does not have an independent bookstore. We don’t have a big-box franchise store, either. No Barnes and Noble. No Books-a-Million. A city without a bookstore is a sad place.
Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel, The Bookshop, comes to mind. It’s the story of Florence Green, a widow in a coastal English village who opens a bookshop, loves her customers, and enjoys her work. Sadly, she has chosen a building for her business that a political power wanted to use for a cultural center. Florence Green is forced out of business. The novel closes with one of the saddest lines in literature:
“As the train drew out of the station, she sat with her head bowed in shame because the town in which she had lived for nearly ten years had not wanted a bookshop.”
From pathetic to pop-up?
Before the pandemic, I’d even played with the idea of a “pop-up” bookstore and plotted marketing strategies to make it work. Once a quarter, I’d team up with a local business to sell books for three days. The nearby winery. Our independent, “Mad Goat” coffeehouse. Maybe the beautiful, spacious quilt shop and retreat center, Threads of Time.
We’d advertise jointly with the idea that any increase in traffic would bring them new customers and increase their traffic. Or we could work out an agreement where I’d pay a small commission on total sales or a nominal rental fee. I’d sell books for a two to three day period, and the business would provide me with a limited amount of space.
I could partner with a local eatery to present a “Fiction and Food” weekend or “A Books and Bread” Bash. (Books are, after all, the bread of life.) Advertising would be done through Facebook, blogs, and promotions through my partner business. My inventory would be small compared to a brick-and-mortar store.
The “exclusive event” would make people want to attend — especially if I marketed it like a party. If you lived in a town where you can’t “shop” for books, opening them to smell the ink, to look at the pictures, to feel their heft in your hands, wouldn’t you come to a quarterly, pop-up, book event? Doesn’t that sound like fun?
A pop-up book event paired with an established local business would be the ultimate in cost-effective strategy and joint promotion. Profit would be bound to follow. Right?
Thank you, James Patterson
Since I don’t have an extra dime, much less money for a sizeable business venture in a wobbly economy, I’ll just say thank you to James Patterson.
James Patterson is the multi-million dollar writer whose books have sold more than 300 million copies worldwide. He has 114 New York Times bestselling novels, 114 and holds The New York Times record for most #1 New York Times bestsellers by a single author, a total of 67, which is also a Guinness World Record.
Bless his heart. James Patterson has money, and he gives generously and frequently to bookstores. For five years before the COVID Pandemic, Patterson gave yearly bonuses to booksellers, giving back more than 1 million dollars to the industry that supports him. Patterson states his unequivocal belief in the power of books:
“I’m concerned about the survival of independent bookstores which are at the heart of main streets across the country…They make us kinder, more empathetic human beings. And they have the power to take us away — even momentarily — from feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and scared.”
To help independent bookstores get through the pandemic, Patterson started #SaveIndieBookstores, a campaign asking for donations that would fund grants to help independent bookstores stay in business. He contributed $500,000 dollars.
He paired up with Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club, The Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC), and the American Booksellers Association (ABA). He asked other authors, prominent figures, including and book lovers all over the country to help fund the program.
Other ways to support independent bookstores
Unlike James Patterson, I don’t have funds to donate to keeping independent bookstores going, but I do have other options. These are the EXPECTED, well-publicized ways to contribute:
Donate to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.
Utilize Bookshop.org when you purchase books. Bookshop supports indie stores. If you’re like me and don’t have a particular store you want to support, then 10% of your purchase is put into a fund and divided between participating stores twice per year. If you DO have a local store, you can indicate that and your store will receive a 25% commission on that sale.
Get your audiobooks from Libro.fm, an organization like Bookshop.org that gives commissions to independent stores.
Unexpected, creative ways to support your favorite bookstore
Buy gift cards. Even if you have a limited budget, you can plan to get gift cards on a weekly or monthly basis. Those gift cards can be used for your book purchases or use them as gifts for others.
Start Christmas and birthday shopping for your friends and relatives now. Gift them with a book that you’ll think they’ll like. Present them with a book that had special meaning to you. Books can be inscribed with a personalized message in your handwriting. Giving a book that meant something to you is like handing someone a bit of yourself. Books can be used over and over, don’t go out of style, and look beautiful.
Do you believe in hostess gifts? Do you like to have token gifts on hand for when a friend needs a pick-me-up or a relative is ill? Keep a couple of books for gifting in any situation: “Wisdom” books that offer quotes on life and love. Coffee-table books with beautiful photography. Books on birds, flowers, or destinations. Hundreds of thousands of options exist.
Purchase NON-BOOK gifts from your local bookseller as well. Most retailers offer a variety of creative gifts. Consider beautiful tote bags or cleverly captioned t-shirts and mugs. Bound journals just waiting to be scrawled in. Bookmarks, booklights, book weights. Papers, pens, and literary paraphernalia. Reading socks. Reading glasses that make a fashion statement. From calendars to candles, independent bookstores have you covered.
Let’s keep them going. Wherever you are.
Believe me, a city without a bookstore is a sad and barren place.
Buy the poignant story by Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop from Amazon or from Bookshop.org.