March 17, 2020

Help available for U.S. booksellers in the time of COVID-19


The necessity of social distancing became real for many Americans this weekend as more people started working from home and schools, libraries, and businesses announced closures in response to COVID-19 and an effort to flatten the curve. For many independent bookstores this has meant cancelling events for March and into April, reducing hours, or closing all together.

These are precarious times for many including booksellers, many of whom have had their hours cut or may not have insurance. If you’re looking for a way to help your local booksellers, Shelf Awareness reported that the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) will continue to provide assistance to booksellers with medical expenses and covering specific situations in which loss of or a reduction in store hours results in an inability to pay bills. Circumstances include:

a bookseller or member of a bookseller’s household contracts an illness and can’t go to work or must be quarantined; a bookseller loses more than 50% of scheduled work hours because residents are told by authorities not to go to work or a mandatory quarantine; if a bookstore loses a significant amount of business due to forced store closure or restrictions on residents’ movement and the store is unable to pay store rent and/or utility expenses.

Binc was founded in 1996 when booksellers at Borders Group, Inc. (#throwback) started a nonprofit foundation to help booksellers in need. In 2011 it was renamed following the liquidation of Borders and expanded their aid to “any employee of a brick-and-mortar bookstore within the U.S.” Since their founding they have assisted booksellers in almost every state with everything from medical bills to natural disasters to funerals. They also want to remind booksellers that they can still reach out with non-COVID-19 related emergencies.

Obviously, it is important that Binc continue to raise funds for the almost-certain increase in demand. Currently Binc has two matching grants totaling $12,500. Writers House agent and former indie bookseller Steven Malk is matching every gift dollar-for-dollar up to $7,500, and Beacon Press is providing the other grant matching up to $5,000. I know times are tight for a lot of us, but if you are able to, a donation to Binc will go a long way to helping booksellers and comic retailers.

In many ways booksellers are the lifeblood of the publishing industry and are often the first to take hits in emergencies or as the industry shifts. There is a lot of uncertainty in the coming weeks, but there are things you can do to help out. Preorder books through your local bookstore or direct from the publisher, buy gift cards, attend virtual events, and reach out to a bookseller and see if they need anything. Social distancing doesn’t mean we still can’t support our communities.



Alyea Canada is an editor at Melville House.