Alternatives to Amazon: Online booksellers that support local and/or offer free shipping worldwide

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Anthropomorphized screenshots battle it out with IndieBound, Wordery, Better World Books, Bookshop dot org battling a colossal Amazon

I design and maintain the book website for our upcoming book, The Hanmoji Handbook. Part of that task includes adding links to buy our book, and I want to encourage our readers to buy from places other than Amazon. The most straightforward method would usually be to just link to our book listing on IndieBound, which directs people to buy from their nearest local, independently-owned bookstore. But for me, linking to IndieBound was not enough for two reasons:

  • IndieBound doesn’t work for anyone living outside of the US and Canada.
  • IndieBound doesn’t offer a “one click,” streamlined shopping experience, it only links to other bookstores (and indie bookstores don’t always have the easiest to use e-commerce websites).

This isn’t to say we don’t link to the IndieBound (they are our first buy button), but we wanted to offer other options for readers coming from different places, and thus, I went down a rabbithole of researching which online bookselling outlets I should link to. Here is a summary of my research — skip straight to the bottom if you want to just see my final picks for this July 2022.


❌ Bookshop.org

Bookshop.org was the name that came up again and again during my research. Their offer sounds extremely enticing: an easy-to-use online storefront that supports independent bookstores, and hey, anyone can sign up to be an Amazon Bookshop.org affiliate to earn 10% on any books you list. But the way they support independent bookstores is actually quite convoluted. Bookshop.org distributes and sells books themself, so it cuts your local bookstore out of the process — bookstores basically become high-powered affiliates on Bookshop.org that get a bigger cut (from direct affiliate sales) and a monthly members stipend (siphoned off from non-bookstore affiliates). For a more precise analysis of this murky situation, see this article in the New Statesman.

The other deal breaker for us was that Bookshop.org is only available in the US, UK and Spain, each through a different online storefront. So we decided that if readers want to support independent booksellers, we’d encourage them to go all the way with IndieBound, rather offer readers two options who ostensibly do the same thing.

Note: Hive in the UK offers a similar service as Bookshop.org, except that it offers an even lower cut for its affiliate bookstores.


✅ Online bookstores with free international shipping: Better World Books, Wordery

There are now multiple online-only bookstores that offer free shipping out of the US and UK to many parts of the world. They will basically ship to wherever their national postal system allows them to.

Of these booksellers, Better World Books (USA) is the current book nerd’s favorite, because they include both new and used books, and proceeds go to both book and monetary donations. Unfortunately, in our case, one-and-a-half months before our launch, our book is not listed on there for pre-orders.

Our second choice is Wordery (UK), which also donates to causes and claims to be committed to a clean supply chain. They don’t seem as charity-focused as Better World Books (and they were acquired by the same group that owns Waterstones and Barnes & Nobles), but they do have our book listed on there for pre-ordering. So we’ve chosen Wordery as the second buy button on our website, for readers who live outside of North America.

While we are here, I wanted to give a shout out to two other online bookstores with free (or almost free) shipping. First, there’s Book Depository (UK) who had our book live for pre-order earlier than Wordery, but was unfortunately acquired by Amazon in 2011. Then there’s Blackwell’s (UK) which ships cheaply outside of the UK, but the shipping price is mysterious and undisclosed — they simply state it is “included within the price of the book.”


✅ Biggest physical bookstore chains in key markets

Not everyone has an independent bookstore near them, so I wanted to complement the link to IndieBound with links to the largest physical bookstore chains in the US and Canada: and Barnes & Noble and Indigo.


❌ Types of booksellers that I didn’t consider

There are a lot of online-only booksellers in the US/UK that offer free shipping within the US/UK but not anywhere else. I screened those out in favor of booksellers who offer free international shipping. If you only care about the US or UK respectively, I would recommend checking out Thrift Books and World of Books in addition to my picks above.

Because I’m looking for links to our new book that’s coming out next month, I also skipped booksellers that specialize in rare/second-hand books, audiobooks, textbooks and ebooks. Companies that stuck out in these categories in my research include Alibris, libro.fm and Biblio.com — though our picks above, Better World Books, Thrift Books and World of Books all sell second-hand books as well.


✨ The final list!

As of July 15, 2022, here are our final choices (aka the buy buttons we put on our website) and why we chose them:

  1. Indiebound (USA, Canada) — support independent bookstores directly!
  2. Wordery (worldwide from the UK) — free shipping worldwide!
  3. Barnes & Nobles (USA) — largest number of stores in the US.
  4. Indigo (Canada) — largest number of stores in Canada.
  5. Amazon (USA) — because some people like to buy everything on Amazon.

In essence, I ended up with a mix of options to shop ethically and conveniently, with a special focus on the US and Canada, where my co-authors and I are based. As a designer, I know that every buy button I add is going to be more confusing for people, so I’m also trying to limit the total number of choices while offering a breadth of choice to potential readers. You can see the final result on our book website here.


🧑🏻‍💻 Addendum: What about ebooks?

Our book involves complicated page designs with full color diagrams and illustrations, so we’re not actively promoting any ebook buying links, but a reader wrote in to ask, so I did some research on the matter.

The frontrunner is ebooks.com, which is an independent seller in the US that supports sales to 100+ countries and territories, and has a prominently-featured DRM-free ebooks category. (DRM stands for digital rights management. Ebooks with DRM can only be viewed inside the store’s app or website, so you can never truly “own” the book.) Independent and chain bookstores also often refer customsers to Kobo, a Japanese conglomerate-owned competitor to the Amazon store that supports DRM-free ebooks. Lastly, select indie publishers directly sell DRM-free ebooks on their own website, so if you’re shopping for/selling a specific book, that would be worthwhile to check out as well.


Sources consulted for this article include BookBildr, A Little Bit Human, libro.fm, PC Sweeney on Medium, Good Good Good, Ethical Consumer.

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