A full-blown book addict, I have never walked by a bookstore or book sale and not stopped in. And I have never left one empty-handed. Ever.
The Japanese language has a beautiful word for this: tsundoku. Roughly, this translates to buying more books than you can read.
One of the reasons I decided on a four-day birthday trip to Portland, Oregon a few years ago was because I wanted to visit the infamous Powell’s Books. I went there all four days. I bought books all four days. My suitcase weighed in at an embarrassingly high number of pounds on the way home. It was glorious.
Then, COVID restrictions forced book lovers online. I had more time than ever to read and I wanted to support small businesses. I’d search for a book title, then look at all the search results to find new sites (sometimes, this meant going beyond page one and even two). Below is a list of the little-known online booksellers I found. I encourage you to give these off-the-beaten-path sites a try.
But first, here’s my two cents about free shipping
From Amanda Mull’s article in The Atlantic entitled, Stop Believing in Free Shipping: How retailers hide the costs of delivery—and why we’re such suckers for their ploys:
“….Now she and the platform are in conflict because of how those other retailers—especially Amazon—have warped our idea of what it means to shop online. There’s scarcely tastier bait for American shoppers than free shipping, and it’s been transformed from an occasional incentive into something that closely resembles a consumer requirement. But shipping isn’t free for the people who send packages, and an insatiable demand for this perk might be the thing that breaks mom-and-pop retail for good.”
The seller in this case sold artisan jewelry and could not afford to absorb the cost of shipping, so once Etsy changed its algorithm to prioritize sellers who offered free shipping, her store no longer appeared on its front page, despite her longevity and popularity. Meaning, that unless you were already a customer, you likely would never see her store.
Me? I’m OK paying for shipping and I don’t make buying decisions based on offers of free shipping. I want smaller sellers to succeed.
So, here’s that list I promised:
Powell’s Books. A Portland, Oregon landmark, the original store is downtown with a few smaller outlets around the city and surrounding areas. It looks like their airport location has shut down since I’ve been there. Hopefully, it will reopen soon. It was a little gem.
Powell’s had an online presence pre-Covid so they were able to pivot and stay in business. Their tagline is ‘Used & New Books” with an emphasis on used. To support this, they have set hours where you can go to sell them your books. This ensures a constant supply of reading material for us book addicts. They offer more than 1,000,000 books spread over five floors. And, they sell mugs too.
Website = https://www.powells.com/ Free Shipping = On orders of $50 or more, otherwise $3.99 flat rate eooks = No audiobooks = No
Next is Bookshop.org. I was so happy to learn they are a B Corp. A percentage of every purchase from this e-commerce-only online marketplace is donated to a local brick & mortar bookstore in your community. All you have to do is tell them which bookstore. Don’t know the name? Their database is robust and search tools are easy to use.
As of this writing, they’ve raised just under $21 million for 1400 local bookstores in the US.
They’ve been running a Facebook social media campaign that’s incredibly clever. If I hadn’t already been a customer, this would have made me one.
Website = https://bookshop.org/ Free Shipping = No ebooks = Yes audiobooks = Yes
Another great option is Thriftbooks. They are the world’s largest online independent used bookseller. Thriftbooks prides itself on selling a wide assortment of quality used, hand-graded books at everyday low prices.
Though they don’t divulge a dollar amount, part of their social mission is to give back to libraries by supporting a network of Friends of the Library programs around the US. (If you don’t already know this, many libraries have on-premise bookstores.)
Website = https://www.thriftbooks.com/ Free Shipping = No ebooks = Yes audiobooks = Yes
Berrett-Koehler specializes in business and professional development books, they are a publisher and a bookseller. They call themselves a ‘Media Company With a Mission that is determined to change the world for the better.’ I’ve ordered from them and had a great experience. In fact, it’s where I purchased the B Corp Handbook at the beginning of my ‘business as a force for good’ journey.
Website = https://www.bkconnection.com/ Free Shipping = If meet requirements ebooks = Yes + PDF formats audiobooks = Yes
BetterWorld Books is a founding B Corp member that is committed to the global literacy movement. To date, they’ve raised more than $33 million for literacy organizations and libraries, kept almost 398 million books out of landfills, and donated almost 34 million books. They have donation boxes around the US where you can donate yours. They’ll go to a good cause.
Website = https://www.betterworldbooks.com/ Free Shipping = If meet requirements ebooks = No audiobooks = No
Finally, many authors sell their books directly from their website and/or social media platforms, so be sure to buy direct if you can. This is the best way to support the authors whose books we love to read.
Have a look at our Resources page for even more about books and publishers in this space.