Arianna Rebolini is a writer and editor from New York, and co-author with Katie Heaney of the novel Public Relations. Formerly the BuzzFeed Books editor, she now writes reviews and recommendations in her newsletter, Reading Habits.
If you’re someone who cares a lot about books, there’s a good chance you’re planning on doing some holiday shopping at your local bookstores. December might seem far off, but this year, thanks to increased demand along with pandemic-related delays, it’s important to get those orders in early.
Read on to find out what you need to know about shopping early this year at independent bookstores.
Pssst: Looking for a way to support your bookstore that requires no fulfillment on their end? Libro.fm gift memberships never expire, can be redeemed worldwide, and we split the profits with the bookstore of your choosing!
1. Right now, labor and material shortages are affecting almost every stage of publishing and distribution.
We were already in the midst of a paper shortage in 2019, and the situation has only gotten worse since then. The printing industry is backlogged and working on limited capacity after some of the biggest printing companies shut down production at multiple plants throughout the past year and a half. In July, Publishers Weekly reported “truck driver shortages, widespread port congestion, and skyrocketing container costs.”
All of this means print books must clear many hurdles to get in readers’ hands.1
2. Independent bookstores are also dealing with massive increase in demand, especially in online sales.
Looking at data from IndieCommerce and IndieLite, online sales revenue was 360% higher in June 2021 (the most recent available data) than in June 2019; traffic to bookstore websites using those e-commerce platforms more than doubled from 2019 to 2021.2
“[For] stores like mine that are either shipping or pick up only, there is less book-buying in person and more demand for online options,” says Heather Halak, owner of Third House Books in Gainesville, Florida. “The USPS had an unprecedented volume of mail last year, and this year will likely beat that number with the Delta variant being much more contagious and people wanting to avoid the holiday crowds.”
“[For] stores like mine that are either shipping or pick up only, there is less book-buying in person and more demand for online options.”Heather Halak, owner of Third House Books in Gainesville, Florida
3. Shipping might take longer with a small bookstore, but the benefits of supporting a local shop are worth the risk.
The online giants will never be able to provide readers with the kind of specialized expertise that indie booksellers offer. Danny Caine, owner of The Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas, and author of How to Resist Amazon and Why, describes small bookstores as “lovingly curated spaces,” benefitting from the wide-ranging knowledge of their book-obsessed staff.
But even if you know exactly what you want—no need for expertise—it’s still worth buying through a local business, because you’re investing in your own community at the same time.
“From a purely economic standpoint, a vibrant collection of small businesses is good for tax revenue, tourism dollars, wages, and on and on,” Caine continues. “From a non-economic standpoint, small businesses and their talented, passionate workers enrich communities [through] free programming, local politics outreach and education, feeding the hungry, and more.”
Buying local also means you’re building a community. Jeannine A. Cook, owner of Harriett’s Bookshop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, describes the special connection she has with the people who shop in her store. “People meet me, they meet my family. I’m watching people’s kids grow up,” she says. “You may be able to shop very easily at the big box stores, but you’ll never know the face behind the business.”
“You may be able to shop very easily at the big box stores, but you’ll never know the face behind the business.”Jeannine A. Cook, owner of Harriett’s Bookshop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
4. Put in your orders ASAP, even if you’re buying a book that’s already released.
Your best bet to get a new book before the holidays—and before the book possibly sells out and awaits a reprint that will likely take longer than usual—is to pre-order it now. But even if you’re ordering an older book, you should do it soon.3
“Major delays in getting books printed and shipped affects pretty much any order,” says Candice Huber, owner of Tubby & Coo’s Mid-City Book Shop in New Orleans. “If a store doesn’t have a book in stock, or if it sells out, it could be 6-8 weeks before we can get more. If we have a book in stock that we can immediately ship out, delays will be less, but there will likely still be shipping delays, especially as we get closer to the holidays.”
“Major delays in getting books printed and shipped affects pretty much any order. If a store doesn’t have a book in stock…it could be 6-8 weeks before we can get more.”Candice Huber, owner of Tubby & Coo’s Mid-City Book Shop in New Orleans.
5. Keep an open mind.
If the brand-new book you’re hoping for won’t arrive in time, ask your local bookseller for help picking out another—you might end up with something even better.
“The booksellers at your local indie bookstore are impossibly smart and impossibly good at getting the right book to the right person,” says Caine. “Rather than giving up when you can’t find a copy of a certain book, tell a bookseller what’s going on. It’s a safe bet that you’ll leave with a great gift, even if it’s not the exact book you came in for.”
“The booksellers at your local indie bookstore are impossibly smart and impossibly good at getting the right book to the right person. It’s a safe bet that you’ll leave with a great gift, even if it’s not the exact book you came in for.”Danny Caine, owner of The Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas, and author of How to Resist Amazon and Why
6. Know that your local bookseller (or any small business owner) is doing their best.
To support local businesses this holiday season, patience and understanding are key.
“We want to serve, and we want to serve well!” says Cook. “When we don’t meet the standard, it’s usually because it’s out of our hands. Think about the point of the season: love, joy, and good cheer. Be loving and forgiving to your local business owners.”
“Think about the point of the season: love, joy, and good cheer. Be loving and forgiving to your local business owners.”Jeannine A. Cook, owner of Harriett’s Bookshop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
7. Consider digital copies, whether e-books or audiobooks.
With digital alternatives to print books, the only thing you have to wait for is the time it takes to download. For digital versions that share profits with independent bookstores, try Libro.fm for audiobooks and Kobo for e-books.
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1[Sources: Forbes, New York Times, Publishers Weekly]
2[Source: American Booksellers Association]
3[Source: New York Times]
4 thoughts on “7 Things You Need to Know About Shopping Early for the Holidays”
What a great thing ! Your pro-active support for independent book stores is a welcome addition. I adore the indie store, Monkey and Dog book store in Fort Worth, Texas. It’s the absolute best .. terrific selection, friendly and welcoming staff, cozy interior surrounded by world class literature .. it’s a book lover’s dream store. They make it easy to resist the lure of Amazon book buying!
We’re so happy to have Monkey and Dog Books as a partner bookstore! Thanks for supporting them, Carol!
Thank you for this article! I will be sharing it in our newsletter for customers to read <3
Bright Side Bookshop
You’re welcome, Amy! We’ll be sharing it all holiday season, too!