Bookshop.org – the socially conscious alternative to Amazon – has raised more than £1m for independent bookshops since its launch in November. The online retailer donates 10 per cent of all sales to indies every six months.
Whether you’re a bibliophile or not, visiting an independent bookshop is a calming and enjoyable experience. There’s a real joy to being surrounded by unread stories – old and new, pre-loved and ready-to-be-loved, first editions and classics, you never know what you might find and fall in love with. The quietness and tranquillity also make them an easy place to pass the time.
Amazingly, considering the availability of cheap books online, independent bookshops started to pop up increasingly more last year – with the Booksellers Association reporting that the number of independent bookshops increased for the second year running, this time by 16 per cent.
Yet, owing to the coronavirus, all non-essential shops were forced to close their doors, so many of these indie treasure troves are at risk.
Luckily, there are a host of virtual literary nooks buzzing with good reads that you can support. To help you in your search, we have rounded up some of the very best places you can shop and help keep sales up during this trying time.
With many places taking orders online or over the phone, whether you want to learn about the life of Michelle Obama in her memoir Becoming, or get your hands on Douglas Stuart’s Booker Prize-winning novel, Shuggie Bain, we urge you to do so from one of these retailers.
These bookshops don’t stock everything, but they can order just about anything for you. And if you get to know the booksellers, they get to know your tastes and will recommend the fiction and non-fiction they think you’ll love, far better than any algorithm can. If you’re looking to find one that’s close to you, take a look at Booksellers Association’s bookshop search.
You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Following its success in the US, Bookshop.org, a socially conscious alternative to Amazon that allows you to buy books online while still supporting local bookshops, launched in the UK in November. Created with the mission to “benefit the public good by contributing to the welfare of the independent literary community”, it is helping to save high street bookstores by giving people access to their favourite indies online.
The online retailer helps indies in two ways. Firstly, bookshops can create their own virtual shopfronts on the website, allowing you to search for your local bookstore or a favourite from a different city. When you make a purchase through the virtual shopfront, the store will receive the full profit from each sale. The second way it is helping is by donating 10 per cent of all other sales to independent bookshops every six months.
Round Table Books, London
What started as a pop-up in response to a study revealing that only 1 per cent of children’s books in the UK contains a BAME character, Round Table Books aims to be an inclusive store dedicated to children (with a few adult titles thrown in too). It curates and stocks books from the widest variety of UK and Irish publishers possible to celebrate underrepresented children’s books and writers. The online shop couldn’t be easier to use, with sections dedicated to different age ranges.
Category Is Books, Glasgow
This LGBT+ bookshop in Glasgow was started by wife and wife team to create a space for the community and their allies to learn about, be inspired by and share a love of queer history, culture, writing and storytelling. They stock new and second-hand queer books, magazines, graphic novels and more, but if there’s something you’d like to order, either give them a call or send them an email with a list. The pay-it-forward shelf has operated online throughout lockdown, so those who are low on funds can still order books to help them get through these trying times. The Category is Books Instagram page is also full of recommendations. Keep an eye out for any upcoming events too.
The Gutter Bookshop, Dublin
Taking its name and ethos from an Oscar Wilde quote (“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”), The Gutter Bookshop in Dublin is kind of a big deal. It was named Independent Bookshop of the Year at the British Book Awards in 2017, and having opened its doors in 2009, in the middle of a recession, this wonderful bolthole proceeded to open a second shop in Dalkey, a small seaside suburb in the south of Dublin.
With a comprehensive online shop including signed first editions, the team promises to get most popular titles within 24 hours, will try and track down new or good second-hand copies of books that are out of print or hard to find, and will even post books worldwide – so this is a great one to have on your radar. If you are Dublin-based, keep an eye out for its book clubs for a post-lockdown get together.
With a philosophy of wanting to connect people to books, help children to develop a lifelong love of reading and encourage imaginative play, Book-ish offers a high-quality service. In 2019 it had a record year and ran its own literary festival, hosted numerous book clubs and local groups, and even launched a book subscription service.
Throughout lockdown, Book-ish has taken online orders, and with a stock of more than 6,000 titles, there is something for everyone. Make sure to check out the onsite café when it reopens, because there is no better combo than cake and books.
Persephone Books, London
Founded in 1998, Persephone’s mission is to republish neglected and under-appreciated women’s literature mostly from the mid-20th century. It’s truly something special and well worth a visit when it can reopen. You can shop its wide selection of fiction and non-fiction – from short stories to cookbooks – online.
Pages of Hackney, London
A lovely little bookshop on Lower Clapton Road, Pages of Hackney makes an extraordinary addition to a rather ordinary street. It’s bursting with everything from contemporary and classic fiction to travelogues and cookbooks, vintage and second-hand editions of Penguin Classics, and so much more.
Luckily, it’s launched a lockdown shop to sell a wide range of titles. But, if you can’t find what you’re looking for on the website, or are want a recommendation, drop the team an email and someone will get back to you.
Five Leaves Bookshop, Nottingham
Known for its radical and literary roots, specialising in social history, politics, fiction, international writing, poetry and LGBT+ literature, visit Five Leaves for all your independent press needs. When it’s back open, keep an eye out for its great events programme.
The Book Hive, Norwich
Norwich’s multi-award winning independent bookshop, The Book Hive offers a hand-picked selection of books, including modern classics, poetry and rare titles. This one is a favourite among famous writers such as Stephen Fry and Margaret Atwood, and we can see why – it’s a quirky and all together different experience from any other bookshop.
DRAKE The Bookshop, Stockton
The main focus of this family-run business is to create a community hub in Stockton for reading, writing, and all things books, with a particular emphasis on encouraging children to love novels too. And that’s exactly what it does. Throughout lockdown, it has been holding online book groups for fellow readers. The online shop is easy to use, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for, just drop the team an email.
Max Minerva’s, Bristol
Founded on a love for how books can evoke emotion, imagination and change the way you think, Max Minerva’s is a community hub for kids and grown-ups, and not only provides marvellous books, it also hosts events, classes, school tours and more. You can order directly from the website, which offers a comprehensive selection of books, and there’s even the option to sign up for the reading subscription too.
Golden Hare Books, Edinburgh
Golden Hare Books took the crown as the Independent Bookshop of the Year in 2019, and should be at the top of your list if you’re an Edinburgh local or visiting for the weekend (keep an eye out for the resident dog). In a bid to stir curiosity, books are displayed facing outwards, and selections are rotated regularly. While visiting this bright and airy store might be off the cards, you can still order from its great selection of books via the online shop.
Looking for titles to add to your reading list? Take a look at our round-up of the past Booker Prize-winning novels