So you’ve run out of library books (a brief PSA)

First of all, happy International Workers’ Day; I hope everyone is being conscientious about their buying choices. We’re over a month into quarantine, and those of you who (unlike me) had the foresight to borrow a bunch of books are probably either reaching the end of that stack or got totally sidetracked by Animal Crossing. But if (like me) you don’t have a Switch, you might be in the market for some new things to read; maybe Shakespeare, maybe not.

So if it’s alright with y’all, I want to use this post as a soapbox for just a sec. (Who am I kidding; this entire blog is my soapbox. It’s either this or stand on a freeway overpass with a bigass banner saying HONK IF YOU THINK SHAKESPEARE WAS QUEER.)

I love Seattle. I grew up here. It’s my city. I’ve lived here for twenty-five years, and over the past ten or so I’ve watched it transformed into something quite frankly worse than the city I grew up in. But Seattle is my home, and I love it, and because I love it I will never encourage you to support Amazon, today or any day. (Also for a host of other reasons; it’s a garbage company that treats its workers like garbage, but that’s not what this blog is about so you can google it on your own time.)

You might see a book on Amazon for an absolute steal, and you might be tempted to buy it. I’ve been there. But we both know in our hearts that this is the morally incorrect choice.

It can be tough, because Amazon has so thoroughly conquered the online book market that all searches and reviews link back to them. Buying anywhere else takes a few extra steps. So: to help you out, here’s a list, in order, of where you should look online instead of just buying from Amazon.

Bookshop probably won’t have it, but try anyway

Bookshop is an online store used by over 250 independent bookstores across the United States, and it is great. You can search by title, author, or keyword on the main site, OR you can search within participating bookstores to see what your local stores have in stock. (No shipping costs! Less packaging waste!)

Amazon has been deliberately undercutting brick-and-mortar independent bookstores for YEARS in order to corner the market. Any website anywhere that talks about a book links to Amazon because Amazon financially incentivizes them to do so. Bookshop now does the same, and places like Slate and the NYT (and me!) have come on board, so hopefully we’ll start to see more links leading there instead.

Thriftbooks or Abebooks probably will have it

Why do I like Thriftbooks over other online used sellers? Five reasons:

  1. They cycle through sales, so if you keep checking back eventually the book you’re after WILL be discounted
  2. They have an app and a rewards system and I don’t drink Starbucks so I have to get my point-earning dopamine somehow
  3. They offer free shipping on orders over $15, which is like four whole books
  4. You can create a wishlist and they’ll notify you when books you want go on sale/come into stock
  5. They use 100% recyclable packaging and I remember reading somewhere that they offset their carbon emissions from shipping, but I looked it up and couldn’t find it again so maybe not

I’ve only ever had one problem with Thriftbooks in the probably 50+ books I’ve bought from them, and while it was frustrating and kind of baffling, they completely refunded my purchase and let me keep the book they sent me by mistake. (Unfortunately that book was I Want a Pet, which is a 6-page long children’s picture book and probably about as far as it gets from From Performance to Print in Shakespeare’s England, but at least I didn’t have to pay to send it back to them.)

Abebooks is comparable to Thriftbooks in price, and if one of them doesn’t have a title in stock at any given time there’s a good chance the other one will. In my experience hey’re more likely to have a rare title than Thriftbooks is but less likely to discount it. I’ve had some issues with the quality of books being lower than they claimed it to be, but nothing like, unreadable. Also, and this shouldn’t prejudice me against them but I’m very superficial, their website is ugly.

If they don’t, head back to Amazon (with a caveat)

If you see there’s a used book for very cheap on Amazon, check out who’s selling it, then go to their website and order directly from them. You’ll often see listings by Better World Books or Book Depository, both of which have their own sites. They both offer free shipping on all titles with no minimum purchase, and they’re decently cheap even if their “sales” are usually only a few dollars off.

Frustratingly, sometimes they’ll list a book on Amazon Marketplace but not on their own sites, and I have no idea why. Also, I’ve received a couple books (can’t remember who from but I don’t think it was either of these) wrapped in like six layers of bubble wrap.

And if you can ONLY find it on Amazon…

Write down the title and author to look up later, make a note of the sticker price so you know if $20 is a massive discount or only a few dollars off, and close the tab. Seriously, just don’t.

I’m never going to shame anyone for buying from Amazon, or Target, or Walmart, or any other megacorporation if that’s their only choice. But a book is not a necessary purchase, and just because Amazon makes itself the easiest option doesn’t mean it’s the right one.

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