Have you ever gone online to do your shopping and stopped to think how much stuff you actually buy from Amazon? The world’s biggest retailer sells just about everything these days, whether you’re after a new book, a games console, or something incredibly specific like a part for your lawn mower.
As convenient as that can be, Amazon is far from a perfect company. It’s been criticized repeatedly for its workplace practices, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, which may leave you wondering whether you should support that with your wallet. Plus, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has more money than any individual could ever hope to spend — he definitely doesn’t need more of yours.
If you’re ready to look beyond Amazon, you’ve got plenty of retailers to choose from. That especially goes for books, which are available from multiple places online, not to mention your local bookstore. If you’re on the hunt for a book and would just as soon get it from someplace other than Amazon, these are your best options.
Barnes and Noble
One of the largest dedicated booksellers in the U.S., Barnes and Noble (opens in new tab) features more physical retail outlets than anyone else. That means there may well be a physical book store you can head down to right now — assuming COVID-19 restrictions in your area allow in-person shopping — and not have to wait for anything to be delivered.
Barnes and Noble also lets you buy a book online and pick it up in your nearest store, provided the one you want is in stock. Home delivery is an option, too, though not everything is eligible for free delivery. The retailer also sells eBooks, which you can download straight to your phone or Nook eReader.
The “world’s largest independent bookstore” is based in Portland, Oregon, so locals can head down to one of many physical locations around the city to pick up their books instantly and not wait for them to be delivered. Everyone else can order from Powell’s (opens in new tab) online, whether you want to buy new, used, or electronic.
What makes Powell’s stand out, however, is that it often stocks signed editions of books too. These aren’t just normal prints with a signature, either, they’re unique editions that are only available in limited quantities.
If you’re after textbooks and other educational material, you know how expensive they can be. Valore Books (opens in new tab) is a specialty bookseller that can help you save money on those materials, as it aims to sell textbooks for the absolute lowest price possible; you can also rent textbooks if that’s what you’d prefer. Valore even sells used textbooks and will buy back your old ones when you’re done with them.
A British retailer, Blackwells (opens in new tab) started off selling educational books when it first opened, so it’s a common presence on university campuses across the U.K. Blackwells has since branched out into other genres, and much of its online catalogue includes the same kinds of books you’d find everywhere else.
The best part is that Blackwells ships to other countries, including the U.S., and you’ll find that delivery is often free. Just be aware that you will have to wait a while, because it does look like most of the retailer’s stock ships from the U.K.
BetterWorldBooks (opens in new tab) is a bookstore that’s also a charity, with the goal of improving literacy across the world. That way, buying books means you’re making a difference in people’s lives, whether they’re used, new, or both. Of course as this is a charity, you can make donations as well, but if you’re just after a new box of paperbacks, BetterWorldBooks offers got a pretty varied catalogue to browse through. Oh, and shipping is free.
An online bookstore that hosts independent sellers from around the world, Allbris (opens in new tab) lets you shop for books without having to patronize a big chain. Instead, you’re dealing with local and independent sellers that can’t necessarily host and maintain their own digital shopfronts. All sellers are rated, and Alibris discloses their location so you can try and find someone close by if they have what you’re looking for. That way shipping is faster and cheaper.
The pandemic has been especially hard on small businesses, but there are ways to support local independent bookshops without having to go outside and risk exposure to COVID-19. Bookshop.org (opens in new tab) is one, letting you order books online like you would anywhere else, but with a share of the profits going to the indie sellers that have been affected by the increased reliance on online shopping.
Another British retailer, Wordery (opens in new tab) offers free worldwide delivery and competitive prices on a huge range of books. Your only downside is that, like Blackwells, Wordery ships from the U.K. and you’ll have to wait a while before your order arrives. But if you’re not in a rush they are well worth checking out.
It may surprise you to see a big-box retailer on this list, but Target (opens in new tab) deserves a mention. If you head over to Target's website you’ll find a huge range of books on sale, especially the new releases and popular work. While Target doesn’t have its own version of Prime, you can still get free home delivery if you buy enough. Alternatively you can opt to pick it up at your local store next time you’re passing by.
If you’re happy buying used books (and why should you not be), then make sure to check out Thrift Books (opens in new tab). It’s dedicated to make sure old books don’t get tossed away if they don’t have to be, ensuring sure titles end up in good hands. Shipping is free in the U.S., if you spend more than $10, and Thrift Books’ prices are typically quite low. While you won’t be getting any pristine, just-off-the-presses books, it’s a great way to boost your library on the cheap.