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How to Support a Black-Owned Bookstore

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Recently an article was published on the Oprah Magazine website, “119 Black-Owned Bookstores in America That Amplify the Best in Literature.” While I was not attributed as a source of the list, I know I was because my bookstore list contains at least one bookstore that is not a bookstore 😉.  But the list was widely copied so who knows where they sourced the info (including my rouge “bookstore”).  Unlike many of the other sites which used the list, Oprah Mag at least included AALBC as a store, so I’m good.


Oprah Magazine also created another article, "12 Authors Share Their Favorite Black-Owned Bookstores." This is was an really cool thing to do too!  One of the 12 authors, Mitchell Jackson, even cited AALBC.com as his favorite bookstore!


But here’s is the thing, and it is a big deal, when mentioning the author’s books, the Oprah Magazine did not send readers to a single Black-owned store. Instead they linked to a white-owned business (bookshop.org), for the book sales — missing a tremendous opportunity to direct those sales to Black-owned bookstores’ websites!


It is fine to say how much you support indie booksellers, but the biggest thing supporters of Black-owned bookstores can do is to send book buyer to our stores and websites.  Far too many “supporters” send book buyers link to Amazon, and now increasingly, to Bookshop, while voicing support of Black owned bookstores (read more on why linking to Bookshop.org does not support Black-owned Bookstores).


Several authors have told me that they don't want to show favoritism for one Black independent over another.  However these authors easily show favoritism by linking to Amazon or Bookshop.  In 2020 no one needs to be told they can buy a book from Amazon, and Bookshop gets free promotion that really was intended for Black-owned stores 


If you want to support Black-owned bookstores, stop promoting Amazon and promote a Black-owned bookstores instead! 


I know most supporters of Black-owned bookstores simply don’t know this, and this is why I'm writing the message. I didn’t know either; While I've been selling books, on the web for almost 23 years, most of that time I was selling books as an Amazon affiliate. Despite my advocacy for Black owned bookstores, I was completely unaware of how my affiliation with Amazon was undermining independent booksellers.


Once I started selling books directly, boycotting Amazon just made common sense.  However replacing Amazon with Bookshop is only a marginally better solution. Amazon pays affiliates 4% and Bookshop pays 10%, far less that what an indie bookseller would make on a sale.


You have to actively support Black-owned stores if you believe they are important.  The idea that Amazon has the best prices is often not true, so that argument no longer holds.  Often books sales on Amazon are actually fulfilled by third parties anyway, so Amazon is not really adding any value. Indeed, they are reducing value by acting as an intermediary who make money on every transaction with zero risk.


Survival Math The American Booksellers Association (ABA) used to tout an solution called Indiebound.org which allowed supporters of indie bookstores to provide book links without showing "favoritism" to any particular bookseller or linking to Amazon.  For example, if someone wanted to provide a buy to Mitchell S. Jackson's book, Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family they could use a link like this: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781501131707. Once the book buyer reached the indiebound site they could enter a zip code, say my local zip code 33647, and a list of local booksellers would be shown.  Indiebound would send readers to local indie bookseller sites to complete the sale.


It seems like the ABA is pushing the Bookshop solution which is a mistake in my opinion, but again I advocate for independence.  Reliance on Bookshop or Amazon to process our book orders and take most of the profit, is the opposite of Independence. Clearly Amazon wants us to be dependent upon them. I doubt Bookshop is any different.


Now I understand that some brick and mortar booksellers are unable to sell books on the web and the pandemic has only made things worse by closing some — not all — physical stores. But imagine if the Black independent booksellers, who can handle the sales, got the business that we are sending to Bookshop.


Support Black-Owned Booksellers.


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Sonya Sanchez said that when she does a book tour she tells her publisher to also book her at bookshops and not just the chains. she said she the small bookshops incubate writers until they are picked up by the majors.

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Every single book on AALBC is actually presented on multiple pages.  Here is the link for Mitchell Jackson's book Survival Math, you will be taken to the book's primary page where you will see a big red “Add to Cart” button:


Add to Cart


You can also use the search engine to search for a title, like Survival Math or an author like Mitchell Jackson. If you are a bit more technical you can craft your own AALBC query in your browser address bar by just typing https://aalbc.com/search.php?find=what you are looking for.  For example https://aalbc.com/search.php?find=daniellegfny


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I revisited the article to see what the reactions to my comment about linking to the Black-owned bookseller sites instead of bookshop.org. 


The entire comment section, along with my comment was completely removed!


I guess I should be happy Oprah mag did not completely nix AALBC from the article.


I tell you it is a constant struggle... A Luta continua.

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Hi @Bev,  Sure the bookstore list may be found here: https://aalbc.com/bookstores/list.php  


I see the ebook, Dr. Sebi Speaks of Dembali by Beverly Oliver is only available as an Amazon's, Kindle.  I assume you are the author. Assuming that you did not give Amazon exclusivity, you can simply make it available in a format that allows other booksellers to sell it. 


Does your ebook have an ISBN? I found the book here: https://booklife.com/project/dr-sebi-speaks-of-dembali-49864 but I recognize the code as an Amazon proprietary identifier.




I noticed that the comment section is back on the Oprah Mag site. I have not idea how long it was missing.  I also noticed that he bookshop.org buy links are affiliate links so I guess Oprah Mag was really just interested in supporting themselves; any support of Black owned store would be purely accidental.




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