Brick & Mortar
I don’t have a local indie bookshop, otherwise I’d probably shop there. We do have two Waterstones, one of which is at the university where I used to work. It’s small, and a lot of space is understandably taken up with textbooks, but I really liked popping in there. What makes a physical bookshop different from an online one is the personal touch – recommendations, curation of books, and discovery (it’s much harder to aimlessly browse online than in person). As a chain, a Waterstones can’t do the curation thing in the same way as an indie, but what I really liked about the one at the university was the enthusiasm and recommendations of one of the guys that worked there. Exactly what you want from a bookshop. (Also, in case you didn’t know, you can click and collect from Waterstones’ website and get the online price even if it’s more expensive in the store you’re picking up from. Bargain.)
I buy my comics from Amazing Fantasy. It’s a small shop, so there are comics towering everywhere, but it’s friendly, has a good selection, and the guy who owns it is often listening to an interesting podcast while he works. Unlike a lot of comics shops you can set up a pull list (where the single issues of a comic are always ordered and put back for you) with no minimum number of comics, which is great if you’re a newbie comics reader or don’t read a lot in single issues.
I’m not a fan of Amazon’s ethics as a company so I try to avoid it if I can (though no judgement if that’s where you choose to shop). It’s also just too easy to buy books without feeling like you’re spending money because you don’t have to put any payment details in after the first purchase. I only tend to use it for books I can’t get anywhere else (usually books not published in the UK). The thing with Amazon is, though, it’s cheap, so it sometimes feels like the only option if you want to buy rather than borrow. However…
Hive is a great alternative to Amazon. The prices are usually the same, and you get free postage (or free pick-up), but it’s not as evil. With each purchase you can also choose an independent bookshop to receive a small percentage of what you’ve spent. (Though Hive market themselves as an alternative to Amazon that helps indies, I suspect the amount the bookshops get is *very* small, so if supporting your local is the most important thing to you, always buy directly from them.)
For secondhand books and out of print books, Abe Books is excellent. You can also find rare books, signed books, and academic textbooks – if you can’t find it anywhere else, you will find it on Abe. It’s basically a marketplace for independent bookshops and sellers. You just have to look carefully to check the language of the edition you’re buying and what country it’s being shipped from (a friend accidentally bought a french edition shipped from the US, so waited a while for a book she then couldn’t read. Oops.).
I’ve also bought a few books from Big Green Bookshop through their (slightly dangerous) twitter service. You just have to tweet them with what you want and they’ll get back to you with when they’ll be able to send it (depending on if they have to order it in) and how much it’ll be. You pay via paypal and it’s easy peasy. Obviously, it’s an indie bookshop so you pay full price, but I like their bookshop and want to support them, and they can give you really great recommendations, which is what you want from a bookshop really.
If you’re buying a book published by a small press, I’d also recommend having a look at their website. Places like Canongate sometimes have frankly ludicrously good sales restricted to their own website (I got a signed Philip Pullman 50% off once), and others do deals when you buy more than one book.
So where do you buy your books? Any favourite places?