“Boxed Out” Bookstores Call Out Amazon in the Best Possible Way


All across the country, indie bookstores fought back against Amazon’s dominance with the “Boxed Out” campaign. (Courtesy of Facebook)

The COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted a financial crisis on independent bookstores, many of which were already struggling to stay afloat before the pandemic began. One of the major reasons these stores have struggled, even before the lockdowns began, is Amazon. The online marketplace has taken over nearly every industry when it comes to sales, as it often seems like there is nothing that you cannot find on Amazon and have conveniently delivered to you with two-day shipping. 

When it comes to books, Amazon’s dominance has threatened independent booksellers. According to a recent report, Amazon is responsible for more than half of all print book sales and over 80% of e-book sales in the U.S. 

This is why the “Boxed Out” campaign was created by the American Booksellers Association (ABA). The campaign, which began at the same time as Amazon Prime Day, included boarded-up store windows and cardboard boxes set up outside shops, evoking images of the all-too-prevalent Amazon delivery boxes. The boards and boxes decorating storefronts, which included phrases like, “Books curated by real people, not a creepy algorithm” and “Don’t let indie bookstores become a work of fiction,” called out Amazon in a direct and undeniable way. 

The bland, beige boxes hint at a future where bookselling has lost all of its charm and character. As a result, the campaign showcases just what makes independent bookstores so special. They are personally curated and catered to the neighborhood. It is the care of dedicated and knowledgeable booksellers, each with their own unique flair, that a computer algorithm can never truly recreate. 

Amazon’s own brick-and-mortar bookstores are a sterile and unwelcome alternative to independent bookstores. The stores feel unnatural in just about every way; books are shelved with the covers facing out, and selections are curated by algorithms based upon online reviews. This takes away so much of what makes the in-person shopping experience so valuable. With a smaller selection that is based primarily around the bestsellers, it is nearly impossible to find that hidden gem that makes the trek to the store worth it. It gives Amazon near complete control over what you are exposed to. 

A future where Amazon bookstores have pushed out independent bookstores is one that has far too much in common with the dystopian worlds we often find in books like “Fahrenheit 451.” The “Boxed Out” campaign is a poignant reminder that this future is much closer than we realize. With declining sales and increasing closures, bookstores are in desperate need of our help.

It has been made quite clear that social media campaigns like “Boxed Out” are effective in garnering a response from bookstore lovers. Social media pleas serve as a call to the community that has loved and adored these stores, asking people to do everything they can to support the struggling stores. 

Booklovers are some of the most passionate and dedicated people you will ever meet, and this passion is evident in their ability to make a big difference in helping booksellers. In 2019, Westsider Books (not far from Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus) announced that they would be closing their doors after 35 years. Dedicated customers quickly raised over $50,000 in response, allowing the store to remain open. 

The magic of independent bookstores cannot be replaced, no matter how convenient the alternative may seem. It may seem impossible to compete with a multi-billion dollar company like Amazon, but bookstores are rooted in their community, and their fate can be controlled by a small group of dedicated customers.

With the holiday season quickly approaching, take advantage of the moment to support these bookstores. Buy gift cards for your friends and family from your favorite local bookstore or visit bookshop.org to purchase books online while still supporting independent bookstores. Even if those you are shopping for don’t read much, local bookstores often have the best small gift ideas, like mugs, candles, cards and much more. 

We may not be able to stop Amazon from garnering an unfathomable amount of money on our own, but through small acts we can support our local bookstores and maintain the special spirit of community that they deliver to us all. After all, bookstores often embody a town in a way that no other establishment can. As author Neil Gaiman once wrote, “A town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.” 

For your next shopping trip (in-person or virtually), I highly recommend Greenlight Bookstore, Word Bookstore and Shakespeare & Company.