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 in 2020 – with the Booksellers Association reporting that the number of independent bookshops increased to 967 shops, up from 890 shops in 2019.
Yet, owing to the aftermath of the pandemic, 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.
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 (£10.99, Waterstones.com), or get your hands on one of the Booker Prize longlist books for 2021, 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.
Following its success in the US, Bookshop.org launched in the UK in November. It’s a socially conscious alternative to Amazon that allows you to buy books online while still supporting local bookshops. 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 2018 study by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) – which revealed that only 1 per cent of children’s books in the UK contains a BAME character – Round Table Books now 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 wusband and wusband team, Charlotte and Fionn, 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 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.
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.
With a stock of more than 6,000 titles, there is something for everyone. Make sure to check out the onsite cafe 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. 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.
It has even launched an online shop to sell a wide range of titles. But, if you can’t find what you’re looking for on the website, or 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, Five Leaves in a one-stop-show for all your independent press needs. We also recommend you 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 altogether 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. 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. It not only provides marvellous books, but 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. If you can’t visit this bright and airy store, you can still order from its great selection of books via the online shop.
For the latest discounts on audiobooks, try the link below:
Looking for titles to add to your reading list? Take a look at our round-up of the past Booker Prize-winning novels