COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on American industry. In the literary world, one of the great victims is the independent bookstore. Independent bookstores already operate on thin profit margins and compared to giants of media, like television production or tech companies, the brick-and-mortar world of publishing is at the mercy of the market. According to Publisher’s Weekly and The New York Times, independent bookstores in NYC, like the famous Strand, have laid off almost all of their staff. Additionally, Powell’s World of Books in Portland Oregon has furloughed its workforce with the exception of a select few filling out online orders.
However, it is not due to lack of need. In fact, many of us have more time on our hands than ever before to finally finish that 800-page tome on our nightstands. But unfortunately, as bookstores are hemorrhaging rent money and unable to operate, sales are going to Amazon. The giant of e-commerce is perfectly poised to pick up the slack in book sales. Though the company has stated that they are prioritizing the shipment of essential supplies to its customers, its subsidiary AbeBooks can take on some of the overflow. Additionally, many people will likely accept the increased shipping times to purchase their favorite books at Amazon’s usual low prices.
Now more than ever independent bookstores need our help to maintain diversity in the bookselling world. While COVID-19 threatens our health, it is an opportunity for the most well insulated businesses to strengthen monopolistic practices. Though it is a luxury to spend a little extra at a bookstore’s online shop, and you will have to pay shipping (something anyone with a Prime account may have forgotten about), COVID-19 is nothing if not a watershed moment for small businesses across the country. Instead of using an Amazon account, consider placing an order with your favorite bookstore’s online storefront. Or if they don’t have one, try Bookshop.org or another used book retailer like Thriftbooks or eBay. What we do with our wallets in this global health and economic crisis is critical in deciding who is still left doing business when all is said and done.