Nine ways to save indies now

Almost all industries are now facing an unprecedentedly challenging time. Last week saw the book industry take a particular hit, as announcements to close all ‘non-essential stores’ across the UK arrived.

Small businesses like independent bookshops and publishers usually operate within very small profit margins. The loss of footfall in shops can spell job losses, overdue bills and rental payments, and ultimately even closures. This has a ripple effect across the industry: if independent bookshops don’t sell their stock, they won’t need to order new book runs from independent publishers, and next it’s the authors who suffer.

In the midst of this climate, micro presses in particular can find their usual forms of revenue generation in crisis. For example, my Scottish micro press Monstrous Regiment Publishing Ltd is currently running a crowdfund campaign for our upcoming nonfiction title, So Hormonal. As per Kickstarter’s terms, once a campaign like this one has been launched it can’t be frozen or paused, even when external factors affect an industry. It’s truly an all or nothing endeavour. While crowdfunding might seem low risk, a failure for a small press like mine would mean a complete loss of projected sales, and that authors, editors and designers would go without pay they were expecting.

We faced the decision of giving up on promoting our crowdfund or doing everything we could to salvage it. Our ultimate decision to go forward with the promotional campaign was because the book is written by authors who are largely experiencing chronic illness and/or are self-employed. These are some of the people that already struggle the most in a challenging industry, so we have decided to work as hard as we possibly can on this crowdfund in the coming week to ensure their fees can be paid.

People are gradually better understanding the pressures that chronically ill authors, the self-employed and those running small book businesses like this face. With that in mind, the content in our essay collection is more relevant than ever and could play a part in further educating people about accessibility and supporting disabled or marginalised authors.

Likewise, it’s clear that plenty of bookshops and other presses have moved their marketing focus online in order to keep their businesses afloat. Not everyone is in a position to support just now, but below I’ve lined up some alternative ways to support the book industry during Covid-19 if you have the means.

Preorder & pledging

Kickstarter has a whole page dedicated to publishing projects, and other sites like Indiegogo and are common platforms for small presses and literary initiatives to raise money. Publishers like Unbound also rely on donations. Pledges usually come with a reward, so you are essentially preordering a book. This is a great way to support a small press and be part of making an exciting new read happen. 

Mail order from small bookshops & presses

Though shops have closed their brick and mortar doors, many are still taking online orders and some are even hand-delivering around their neighbourhoods. Some great examples leading this effort are: Portal Bookshop in York, Portobello Books in Edinburgh, Category Is Books in Glasgow, Housman’s in London, Gay’s the Word in London, and Five Leaves in Nottingham. Not all of them have online stores, but in that case, you can check their social media and email or call to order. To find a shop near you, check out Indie Bookshops UK, who are trying to stay on top of a full list.

Likewise, many presses have online shops where you can order all the goods you need and know that the proceeds go directly to the small business that needs it. For example, Haunt Publishing and 404Ink offer book and e-book purchase directly on their websites!

Patreons and subscriptions

Many publishers have Patreon accounts (for example, Dead Ink, Galley Beggar, and Blood Bath) where for a small monthly fee you can get access to exclusive content. Other presses have subscription models (Influx, Fitzcarraldo, gal-dem) delivering publications to your door in advance of release. To support sellers who can no longer sell on the streets, The Big Issue is moving to an online subscription. And subscription services like Stack deliver different independent magazines to you each month. 

Some bookshops are also offering special subscription boxes, delivering tailored books to you on a regular basis. Check out Book-ish in Crickhowell, and Typewronger Books and Golden Hare Books in Edinburgh.

Gift vouchers

If you want to support shops financially now but don’t know what books to get, try vouchers instead. Shops like The Second Shelf in London and News from Nowhere in Liverpool are offering this option that you can cash in at a future, more stable time.

Pay it forward

Lighthouse Books in Edinburgh is offering an excellent way to lend a hand while supporting others. With their pay it forward scheme, you can allocate money to give to a future customer who might not have the funds to purchase a book.

PayPal & Ko-Fi donations

Knight Errant Press are a queer indie press accepting donations via PayPal. For many authors and publishers, you’ll also see a Ko-Fi donation button, where you can donate the price of a coffee

Virtual book groups

If your usual book group can’t meet in person, or if you’re beginning to feel isolated, try beginning a video chat or a text book group instead. This keeps the conversation going and keeps funds flowing via book club selections. There are public versions of these, too; Robert MacFarlane has launched #CoReadingVirus on Twitter, while Sharmaine Lovegrove of Dialgoue Books has launched an Instagram club.

Attend virtual events

Video author readings and performances are becoming available online, and many presses are finding ways to shift their event programme schedule into an online format. Check out things like the Quarantine Cabaret and MyVLF.

Follow publishers & bookshops online

If you don’t have money to spare, your ‘likes’ can go a really long way in helping bookshops and publishers change social media’s algorithm. Newsfeeds are flooding with the same news just now, and while it’s important, it makes it even harder for a small business to move their sales online.