Sustainable and Ethical Alternatives to Buying Books on Amazon
Updated: Feb 6
Curling up on the couch with a good book is the perfect way to spend an evening or pass a rainy day. It's quite the downer though if you start thinking about how that book you're holding came from Amazon and you're money went to the richest man on earth...
Amazon's history of unethical treatment of its workers and poor environmental measures is well documented. If you're not convinced that you need to move away from using your Prime account, this isn't the post for you (but there's plenty of reading out there that addresses it!). This post is all about where to buy books instead of on Amazon.
It's Time to Quit Amazon
If you're ready to ditch your Amazon Prime and boycott Kindle, you'll still need to get your books from somewhere! What options are left that Amazon hasn't bought out? Where can you find books that are sold buy ethical companies?
Here is a list of sustainable and ethical ways to get your books, not on Amazon.
Bookshop is giving other online book sellers a run for their money! At first you may think they’re like any other seller, providing new books from just about every genre. Bookshop though ONLY supports independent book stores which puts them far above the rest.
A huge portion of their profits are given to independent bookstores across the US. They publish a running total of the amount raised for bookstores at the top of their website (currently at over $10 million!). They also partner directly with smaller bookstores that can't hold quite as wide of an inventory and allow customers to purchase through the linked pages to give the referring bookstore all the profits.
Bookshop also became a certified B-Corp which means they are legally empowered to focus on positive outcomes rather than shareholder profits!
As a wonderful bonus? Bookshop is reportedly kicking Amazon's butt over the last year and giving them a real fight for the online book selling industry.
Looking for recommended reading? Check out our list of must-reads in 2021 for the environmental activist!
Thriftbooks takes buying books online one step further towards sustainability by streamlining secondhand purchases. Devoted entirely to uses books, Thriftbooks is a great place for the book lover to find just about anything at a reduced price.
Thriftbooks purchases used books through places such as non-profit organizations and libraries that want to update their collection. They also partner with Correctional Facilities to supply books to those that are incarcerated.
Any book that isn't able to be reused or resold is recycled. Remember that buying secondhand reduces the environmental footprint of an object by extending its life - so buying from Thriftbooks is a great option!
As a previous Portland resident, I simply couldn’t skip over including Powell's Books in this list of sustainable bookstores. Not only is Powell's Books a behemoth of a store filled with cozy nooks and crannies that you could get lost in, it also has an incredible section of books online to purchase from. Do you know that Powell's is actually the largest independent bookstore in the world?
At the beginning of the pandemic Powell's Books went 100% online and saw a sky rocketing amount of orders. Whether you’re in the PDX area or not, it’s worth checking out their collection to find a new read and support this incredible business.
Better World Books is a certified B-Corporation that offers both new and used books for purchase. Since they began in 2002, they have collected over 250 million used books through donation bins - all of which have either been reused or recycled!
Better World Books is also strongly committed to enhancing social programs by providing literacy grants and volunteering in the community. They offer customers the option of purchasing carbon neutral shipping at checkout which is a great added feature! They also invest in renewable energy to offset their companies footprint each year.
Don’t forget these great resources for finding books! And selling them! On Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist you’ll have to be really patient if you’re looking for a specific title. eBay though is almost guaranteed to have someone selling the book your are after.
As companies, I wouldn't say that they're ethical per say. Facebook at least definitely has fallen short on quite a few fronts including becoming a mega-business with its pockets in just about everything. The reason these make the list however, is because secondhand books are simply more sustainable.
You can also find ethical places to buy books in your own neighborhood!
Little Free Libraries
Little Free Libraries are the absolute best thing to come across on an afternoon walk! Designed to promote community, gifting, and reading, neighbors build little water proof shelves in their yards that act as homes for books. Anyone can then take a book or leave a book! The movement is governed by a non-profit that tracks where all the libraries are built around the world. Check out their map to find the nearest one to you!
During COVID Little Free Libraries have become a common place for neighbors to also place non-perishable items for those going hungry. Take a minute to also learn about Little Free Pantries and the Little Free Diverse Libraries movements!
Buy Nothing Groups
If you’re part of your Buy Nothing Group on Facebook, it’ll just take a second for you to post an ASK to see if your neighbors have the book you are after. Someone might even be willing to loan it to you if they’re not willing to part with it forever!
If you’re not yet involved with Buy Nothing, you’ll definitely want to read about how becoming a Buy Nothing admin has promoted waste reduction in my community and join yours!
Shopping for clothing on the racks at Goodwill has become a popular past time for millennials - so why not incorporate a glance at the book shelves? I don’t recommend heading to a thrift shop with a specific book in mind because the selection is usually quite random. However it can be a great place to find a good read if you go in with an open mind.
When preparing for a trip, I will often take a trip to Goodwill in search of some entertaining novels for the plane ride. When I traveled to Mexico and Ecuador a while back, I searched the shelves for the Lonely Planet Guide books and finally found them. If secondhand shops have anything in abundance book wise, it's the travel books!
This one may seem obvious to some, but it’s easy to forget that there are physical stores that sell thousands of books! Bookstores are an incredible place to spend an afternoon browsing through the shelves and are guaranteed to rekindle your love of reading.
Small bookstores also are beneficial to support because they tend to be independently and locally owned (avoid Barnes & Nobles!). When you shop at a bookstore, your money then is supporting your community instead of funding a giant multimillion dollar corporation.
This list simply wouldn’t be complete without highlighting libraries! Honestly whenever possible, let’s borrow our books rather than buy them. Libraries function as community spaces, lecture halls, event centers, ballot drop boxes, a warm place on chilly days, resource distribution, and learning centers!