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Innovative Indies: Shop Independent No Matter Where You Live

Sarah McCarry

Staff Writer

Sarah McCarry is the author of the novels All Our Pretty Songs and Dirty Wings and the editor and publisher of the chapbook series Guillotine.

For obsessive readers, it’s hard to beat the joy of a well-stocked and smartly-staffed bookstore; one of the greatest joys in my life is stumbling across titles I never would have found otherwise, whether on a carefully curated shelf or via a thoughtful bookseller recommendation. Unfortunately, as Rioter Kelly Jensen points out, it’s a rare privilege to live near an independent bookstore—or a brick-and-mortar bookstore of any kind, for that matter. But indie bookstores are evolving as quickly as the market is, and many stores are building innovative online programs that create bookish community no matter where you live. The following is just a handful of examples—if you know of another store with a similar offering, please mention it in the comments! (And huge thanks to the perennially wonderful Jenn Northington, bookseller extraordinaire, for helping me put together this list.)

1. WORD Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY: In addition to being staffed by some of the nicest people on the planet, WORD is also one of the most genre-friendly stores I’ve ever been in—no stereotypically snooty bookmongers glaring at you over their pince-nez here. They’ve just launched WORD to Your Mailbox, a monthly subscription program in which booksellers hand-pick titles and send them to you. You can sign up for kids’, YA, romance, or geek favorites—you can even design your own custom program by specifying your budget and your literary tastes.

2. Green Apple Books, San Francisco, CA: Indie stalwart Green Apple Books offers a hand-selected Book of the Month Club; each month, booksellers comb through new paperback releases and send their favorite directly to your door.

3. Powell’s Books, Portland, OR: Powell’s has one of the best used book selections in the country, and it’s just as easy to order from them as it is to order from those other guys. But they also have a subscription club, Indiespensable, which focuses primarily on independent and small presses—subscribers get signed first editions, exclusive printings, and hand-picked sets of new books from the best of the small press world.

4. Politics and Prose, Washington, D.C.: Politics and Prose offers Book of the Month, Children’s and YA Book of the Month, and Signed First Edition Book of the Month subscriptions customized to your reading tastes.

5. Angry Robot Publishing: SFF publisher Angry Robot has teamed up with a selection of US and UK indie bookstores to bundle paperback and e-book versions of its titles for just the price of the paperback through its Clonefiles program. (Kind of brilliant, right? Cough, cough, Big 5.)

6. Magers & Quinn, Minneapolis, MN: Magers & Quinn offers a signed first edition subscription program; titles are chosen based on literary merit and industry buzz.

7. Village Books, Bellingham, WA: Village Books also has a signed first edition subscription program; in addition, you can build an online wishlist through their website.

8. ebooks: You can buy ebooks from indies, too, in formats that will work on any device except for a Kindle. Many indie stores sell Kobo ebooks directly through their sites; check out this funny and informative post from author Lydia Netzer on having your cake and eating it too (er, buying ebooks AND supporting indie bookstores).