Photo of Solid State Books in DC from Shelf Awareness

The American Booksellers Association has launched #Boxed Out, an anti-Amazon campaign, designed to encourage people to buy books from their local independent bookstore.

I suppose you’ve got to do something: clearly recent developments have heavily favored mail-order book-buying. But the slogan “Boxed out” seems a bit negative to me. Wouldn’t “Boxed in” have been more positive, and perhaps an even more accurate description of the situation of independent bookstores during the coronavirus pandemic? For quite a time bookstores had to be shut. Now that things have been opening up a little, many bookstores are keeping their heads above water by packing books into boxes and shipping them off to loyal customers. Clearly this is not a business in which they could ever be as efficient as Amazon.

Naturally many in the book business want to resist Amazon and support independent bookstores, but in a way it’s just a matter of substituting one box for another now that we are all buying our books via mail/UPS etc. By wrapping their stores in brown paper the ABA hopes to bring home to people the problem of bypassing your local bookstore. Shelf Awareness links to this story from AP. Publishers Weekly also covers the campaign. AdWeek spoke to the designers: they are the ones who brought us Palessi, a fake Italian boutique a couple of years ago.

I’m always a bit leery about the desire to punish Amazon for being so successful. Any business is bound to have love/hate relationships with its major customers, of course. I think it’s the negativity I don’t like: I too support the idea of not ordering the books I want from Amazon but buying them instead from an independent bookstore — independent bookstores certainly need help after the lockdowns and in the face of on-going caution on the part of their customers. If we really want the independent bookstore to survive we should all resist the easy option of ordering a book from Amazon — they’re unlikely to notice the draft — and Bookshop.org provides an easy alternative. Even better though is going direct: many stores have curbside pickup options. Give them a call.

Part of the problem is that Amazon can afford to discount their books. We just have to recognize that there are benefits from keeping independent bookstores going, and it’s worth a little bit extra on your book budget to help fund them. Compared to so many things we buy without a second thought, books are not really that expensive, so forgoing the discount isn’t such a big sacrifice.