As the UK slowly emerges from some 100 days of coronavirus lockdown, independent bookstores have urged readers to “shop locally” and “cancel their Amazon Prime accounts”.
Over the last few months, the coronavirus pandemic has shone a spotlight on the pivotal role played by bricks-and-mortar bookstores, with many customers describing the reopening of their local independent bookshop as bringing “a sense of normality” back to their community.
Peter Brook, from the independent bookstore BrOOK’S Pinner, in North London, in turn paid tribute to the store’s “wonderful” customers, who had continued to order their favourite titles online during lockdown, and had returned “in a steady flow” after BrOOK’S Pinner reopened on 16th June.
Yet this unique relationship between local bookstores and their customers is facing an existential threat. BrOOK’S Pinner, like many independent bookstores and publishers were able to continue taking online orders over the course of lockdown. However, with Amazon accounting for more than half of all book sales, and Jeff Bezos adding some US$34.6 billion to his personal wealth during the pandemic, the real challenge facing independent bookstores and publishers may not be the coronavirus; but Amazon itself.
In this context, Peter had a simple message to all readers when speaking to Nothing in the Rulebook: “shop locally”. He said:
“We urge all book lovers to shop locally, now more than ever. Visit your local independent bookshop or order from them online. It is easier to buy books from us now than ever before, so you have no excuses to be using those online marketplaces!”
This is a mantra echoed by fellow independent bookstore owner David Torrans, who runs one of Belfast’s most beloved bookshops, No Alibis.
David acknowledges that lockdown has been “challenging, disrupting, and frightening” and says, while an increase in sales has been gratefully received, it will not make up for the overall loss incurred by lockdown.
Although No Alibis remain confident that they will be able to adjust their business within the new commercial environment, the biggest help they could get right now would be from consumers changing their buying habits – and moving away from the online behemoths to support local independents instead. In a rallying call to literary arms, David said:
“Everyone could cancel their Amazon Prime accounts! That would be my dream situation. But really, what people can do is continue to support the bookshops, as they have been doing so wonderfully well, and just keep in mind that maybe not everything needs to be there the very next day.”