A Flowchart for Making Impactful Purchases at Your Indie Bookstore

This guest post on how to support independent bookstores comes from Ally Kirkpatrick. Ally Kirkpatrick is the owner of Old Town Books in Alexandria, Virginia. You can find her on Twitter @oldtownbooks.


Looking to support independent bookstores during the pandemic? Here’s a flow chart for how to make your purchases most impactful for your local indie.

Order Directly From the Bookstore’s Website

Does your local bookshop have a webstore? If so, shop directly on their website. Purchase branded merch, gift cards, and search for in-stock titles. Shopping specifically for in-stock titles or gift cards means the booksellers working in the store can just pluck your order off the shelf, bag it up, and have it ready for you as soon as possible. It means that we can sell through the inventory that we already have on hand, avoid shipping costs, and avoid submitting and waiting on new orders from publishers.

Ordering in-stock books is also sort of comforting for the booksellers—it feels a little bit like running our usual bookstore, minus the foot traffic inside. We have a pick-up bench set up from 12:00–3:00 p.m. every day and wave to our customers through the window when they come by to pick up their orders. It’s not the same as hanging out among the shelves and chatting books, but it’s as close as we can get right now, and it helps.

While we love hearing from customers, phone call orders are difficult to track and can take much longer to process than online orders. If your local store has a webstore, placing your order there will ensure it doesn’t get lost. At Charm City Books in Baltimore, Maryland, owner Daven Ralston prefers online orders for the sake of convenience and organization.

“We see a lot of orders via Instagram DM, over email, and on the phone,” said Ralston. “We appreciate all the orders so much and don’t want to turn people away, but it’s a struggle to manage orders if they are coming in across all platforms. We direct customers to online orders now so we can avoid fulfillment errors.”

If your state or city has stricter stay at home orders in place and contactless pick up is not available, shipping is a great option. Most indies with web stores are still shipping across the U.S. Stores are even offering specials on shipping to incentivize customers to shop online with them directly. Old Town Books, for example, is offering $1 shipping on books. The loss we take on shipping is offset by the higher volume of orders we’re seeing. Heidi Shira Bender, co-owner of Split Rock Books in Cold Spring, New York, also started offering shipping deals.

“We’re doing a $2 shipping promo on all orders and free shipping for orders over $30,” said Bender. “People always have the option to pay for their shipping costs, which is a great help.”

If you can’t pick up locally and the title you want is not in stock, the next best way to buy is to place a special order for a book and have it shipped to you. About three quarters of our online orders are for titles we don’t currently have in stock. We place these orders with our publishers and receive them usually within a few days’ time. When the books arrive, we pair them to any in-stock books in your order, pack them up, and ship them your way. It takes about a week longer to do a special order and have it shipped, but it’s just as helpful. We lose a bit more margin on these books to account for packing supplies and labor, but this is still by far the best way to support stores that have their own in-house fulfillment workflow.

Spend $50 ordering directly from a bookstore’s own website, and they get $23–25 of the sale.

Break Up With Audible and Join Libro.fm

Libro.fm is an audiobook platform that supports independent bookstores, at the same monthly membership price as other audiobook platforms, like Audible. During the COVID-19 outbreak they’re offering a special where stores can get a higher than usual percentage of your first audiobook sale. 100% of your first month’s Libro.fm membership price will go to the bookstore of your choice.

Spend $50 on audiobooks at Libro.fm and your store sees $14.99 of the sale.

What if your local shop doesn’t have their own web store?

Visit Bookshop.org and 10% of your purchase will be put into a fund that benefits indie bookstores. If your neighborhood store is an affiliate of Bookshop—meaning if they sell books online exclusively through Bookshop.org—they get 30% of a sale, and don’t have to fulfill the order themselves.

Spend $50 this way, and your store sees $5–15 of the sale.

If Your TBR is Towering and You Want to Support Stores in Other Ways

Take an online class or attend a virtual author event:
Bookstores are taking their community programming online. Attend a virtual event and buy the author’s book on the store’s website.

Get creative:
Old Town Books is offering pay-what-you-can writing classes with award winning authors every week during the shut down, with instructors like Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, Lily King, and Sarah Gailey.

Vote with your donation dollars:
Consider donating to one of the many GoFundMe campaigns aimed at keeping bookstores open.

Send some love to BINC:
The Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC) is a charitable organization dedicated to helping booksellers in need. Their #SaveIndieBookstores campaign is raising funds to help save local bookstores.

And if you’re not able to donate or purchase books at this time, show some love on social media to amplify your favorite indie bookstore.

Thanks for your support and long live the independent bookstore!