Shining a light on choice: indie bookshops and Amazon

The biggest benefit to buying books from independent booksellers, publishers, and authors, is also the number one reason why readers are often afraid to take the leap outside of Amazon: choice.

The worries about choice

  • Familiar titles by the biggest celebrity names, as promoted on TV and other media, are unlikely to be available at Indie book shops, thanks to exclusivity deals with Amazon amongst other things.
  • Some shops are seemingly so obscure, you may never even accidentally Google them. How are you supposed to discover the bookshops if you don’t know they are there?
  • So many unknowns. Myriad authors of varying quality and gift. How to choose when you’ve never heard of the author? Some of the covers speak for themselves, and the message doesn’t always convey quality …

Why you don’t already get the choice you think you do

Riddled with ways to get you to notice and buy certain books over others, Amazon removes a layer of the reader’s ability to discern for themselves what they want to read.

How we discover things (an integral facet of user experience) is warped by the deals made by publishers to get their books on the front page, the continual too-good-to-be-true offers, the announcements of a coveted new product. The ‘other people also bought’, the ‘featured recommendations’. Everything ‘personalised’ to you, sort of.

In a rational sense, you can see how this might be useful. Readers have to wade through millions of books, so anything that improves book discoverability is a good thing, right? It’s not as if you already knew what genres you like and which keywords to use in a search engine, is it? Oh, wait–

By doing all the thinking for you, via the algorithms it uses, it removes the necessity for you to make truly active decisions. Whether you know it or not, you are as likely to make a decision based on the guidance that Amazon gives you as you are based on your own information.

See this?

People make instant decisions with their subconscious. When they have to explain the choice, the choice might change completely since the rational mind is then involved. Takeaway: Don't trust people when they explain why they bought something. They might not know themselves.

From the blog.

Those instant decisions we’re making when we use a whizz-ding selling platform site like any of the big guys, eBay, Amazon, Etsy, those decisions are not necessarily rational, positive, or truly active. We are partially passive consumers and we justify our irrational decisions with rational arguments. There are plenty more tips on the excerpted blog post, if you’re wondering what else is used in the hardcore marketing arena.

Discovery: an opportunity to make your own choices

By contrast, many independent book sites are older and less committed to the use of cookies, pixels, and other hard-sell marketing magic, although newer ones certainly use design and marketing tools to improve the likelihood of sales—without the range of Amazon, they don’t have as much accuracy. Publishers and authors who sell directly, through their own sites or shopping platforms, often use email marketing to gather readers and pique their interest.

Email marketing is unobtrusive and non-sneaky, and bound by laws like the GDPR, so if you want it to stop, you can say so and it will. Email marketing gives readers the chance to decide if they like the author, their attitude, the things they think about. It gives them the opportunity to check out other books offered by the same publisher. The buying decisions may still be irrational, but the reader gets to their destination purchase via a more organic path, a little like following the links across Wikipedia in an idle hour.

Instead of being guided by the most supreme data collection the world has ever known, your experience in exploring and buying independent books is based mainly in your own more natural discoveries.

Not knowing what’s out there is part of the experience. You take a brief risk with your time when you buy an e-book by an unknown author. Most e-books sell for less than the price of a sandwich–millions are free–so you won’t be hit significantly in the pocket if you buy a book that turns out to be something you didn’t like.

Range free: A living network of independent book lovers

Behind the blinding sun of Amazon, a bright network of spindly lines can be seen, a net of connections from online course communities to publishers, authors to e-book storage solutions, book reviewers to YouTube channels. And, of course, readers. Literally millions of people who live and breathe books, supporting the independent sector of the industry by using it.

Many of those authors and publishers also sell on Amazon, by the way, but they get more money if they also sell direct.

Which e-bookshops can I buy from?

These are only the three I have used myself. Check out this list of independent e-bookshops if you want a much bigger overview.


Smashwords is an example of the kind of site that has taken book publishing and marketing to the next level. All using a website that looks as though it was created in the mid-2000s (it was). The distinctly underground feel is persistent, not least because it is totally fair to authors, delivers up to 80% profit to the writers, and it’s all absolutely free. Whoever heard of such travesty?!

What’s more, because Smashwords so rudely insists on being fair to everyone, they’re running Read An E-book week from March 4-10, 2018. It’s a huge promotion for free, pay what you feel, and massive discounts on already reasonably priced e-books. Even if you don’t have an e-reader, any tablet or mobile smartphone device of reasonable modernity will run an e-reader app.

Weightless Books

Weightless sells e-zines as well as independent e-books. What jumps out the most on the site are science fiction and fantasy novels, but it has all the genres (look in the left-hand column under ‘Find books’). The site might look a little busy, but it does all the modern stuff, including emailing purchased books to your chosen device. All the books I’ve bought from Weightless have been great.

Angry Robot Books

Angry Robot’s emails are so attractive that I’d bought 3 books in 3 months before I relegated their emails to my Gmail promotions tab. All the books have been great, although their prices can sting a little.



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