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Ethical Bookshops

Guide to 34 leading UK bookshops, with best buys. Includes alternatives to Amazon and its various book-selling brands and how to find ethical online and local bookshops.

We also look at the best options for ebooks and audio books, sustainability, buying secondhand books, and how to support independent authors, publishers and bookshops.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a shopping guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

Learn more about us  →

What to buy

What to look for when buying print, e- or audio-books:

  • Is it a local, independent seller? Buying from independent shops keeps high streets alive and ensures that authors are paid fairly.

  • Is it secondhand, swapped or borrowed? Books can be swapped and loaned, reducing the environmental impacts of book production if you are buying a lot of books.

  • Is it a charity or not-for-profit? Buy from retailers that are charities or which donate to charities and literacy projects.

Best Buys

Your local, independent bookshop or nearest library is best, but our highest scorers for print books are below:

Best for print books: AwesomeBooks, Better World Books, Biblio, Guardian Bookshop, Oxfam, and World of Books.

These are all online, and Oxfam has physical bookshops. All but the Guardian sell secondhand books too.

Best for ebooks: Ebooks.com.
Best for audiobooks: xigxag.

Recommended buys

Bookshop.org, Hive, and Litalist scored well across most of our categories and all support independent bookshops.

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying print, e- or audio-books:

  • Is it Amazon? Avoid Amazon and its brands Audible and AbeBooks.

Companies to avoid

We recommend avoiding Amazon (including its brands AbeBooks and Audible).

  • Amazon
  • AbeBooks
  • Audible

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Biblio secondhand [P]

Company Profile: Biblio
14

Better World Books secondhand [P,A]

Company Profile: Qumpus Inc
13.5

World of Books secondhand [P,E,A]

Company Profile: World of Books Ltd
13.5

AwesomeBooks secondhand [P]

Company Profile: Wrap Ltd (was AwesomeBooks Limited)
13

Biblio [P]

Company Profile: Biblio
13

Better World Books [P,A]

Company Profile: Qumpus Inc
12.5

Ebooks.com [E]

Company Profile: Ebooks.com Pty Limited
12.5

Guardian Bookshop [P]

Company Profile: Monwell Limited
12.5

xigxag audio books [A]

Company Profile: xigxag Limited
12.5

AwesomeBooks [P]

Company Profile: Wrap Ltd (was AwesomeBooks Limited)
12

Bookshop.org books [P,A]

Company Profile: Bookshoppe Limited
12

Alibris second hand [P,A]

Company Profile: Alibris
11.5

Books Etc [P,A]

Company Profile: Books Etc Limited
11.5

Litalist [P]

Company Profile: Litalist Limited
11.5

Oxfam books [P,A]

Company Profile: Oxfam GB
11.5

Oxfam second hand books [P,A]

Company Profile: Oxfam GB
11.5

Hive [P,E,A]

Company Profile: Hive Store Ltd
11

Alibris.co.uk [P,A]

Company Profile: Alibris
10.5

Audiobooks.com [A]

Company Profile: Audiobooks.com
9

Daunt Books [P]

Company Profile: Travel Buff Limited
9

WH Smith Bookshops [E,P,A]

Company Profile: WH Smith Plc
8.5

Apple iBooks [E,A]

Company Profile: Apple Inc
7

Rakuten Kobo [E,A]

Company Profile: Rakuten Kobo
6.5

eBay books second hand [P,A]

Company Profile: EBAY UK Limited
5.5

Google Books [E,A]

Company Profile: Google LLC
5

eBay books [P,A]

Company Profile: EBAY UK Limited
4.5

Blackwell's Bookshops [P,E,A]

Company Profile: Blackwell UK Ltd
3.5

Foyles Bookshops [P,A]

Company Profile: Waterstones Booksellers Limited
3.5

Hatchards [P,A]

Company Profile: Waterstones Booksellers Limited
3.5

Waterstones Bookshops [P,A]

Company Profile: Waterstones Booksellers Limited
3.5

Wordery [P,A]

Company Profile: Waterstones Booksellers Limited
3.5

AbeBooks online bookshop [P,A]

Company Profile: Amazon.com Inc
0

Amazon books [P,E,A]

Company Profile: Amazon.com Inc
0

Audible audiobooks [A]

Company Profile: Amazon.com Inc
0

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

In 2022, 669 million physical books were sold in the UK, which is the highest number ever recorded. In 2023, the Publishers Association reported that there were increases for sales of print and digital formats last year: print books increased by 3%, while sales of digital formats increased by 5%.

A large amount of the profit would have been sucked up by Amazon. Around 10% of Amazon's revenue comes from its book sales, totalling $28 billion (approximately £22 billion) every year. The company dominates the global and UK book market, selling around 300 million print books annually. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that there are lots of alternatives to buying books from Amazon, including supporting your local independent bookseller, buying secondhand books from charity shops, borrowing from your local library, and making use of community book initiatives. We couldn’t include independent bookshops in our scoretable as there are so many but we’ve listed some of your favourites later in the guide.

We’ve included ebook and audiobook retailers in the guide as alternatives to Amazon.

Key to the score table: [P] = print books   [A] = audio books   [E] = ebooks.

Alternatives to Amazon for books

Amazon and its brands AbeBooks and Audible are at the bottom of our ethical rankings for bookshops.

Three of the main issues with Amazon are:

  • tax avoidance
  • building a monopoly
  • denying workers’ rights

For around a decade Ethical Consumer has being calling for a boycott of the company over its tax avoidance which costs the UK millions in public funds every year. During this time we've seen resistance to Amazon grow: we have been joined by Fair Tax Mark, Tax Justice Network and others in condemning the company’s tax record; we’ve seen workers, unions, anti-racism organisations, anti-gentrification movements and others raise voices against Amazon globally; and hundreds of people signing a pledge to avoid Amazon.

By boycotting the company, we are taking part in this global movement and increasing pressure on Amazon – or the legislation that allows its abuses – to change. 

Fortunately, in many markets there are wonderful alternatives to Amazon, and this includes bookshops.

This guide takes you through all the options for bookshops, and is part of a series of 'Amazon Alternatives' which includes our guide to ethical online retailers, and guide to delivery companies.

Which bookshops are in the guide?

The majority of the bookshops in this guide are online-only. These are: AbeBooks, Alibris, Amazon, Apple, AwesomeBooks, Books Etc, Bookshop.org, Biblio, eBay, Google Books, Guardian Bookshop, Hive, Litalist, Rakuten Kobo, Wordery, and World of Books.

Physical high street chain bookshops included are Blackwell’s, Daunt Books, Foyles, Oxfam bookshops, The Works, Waterstones, and WHSmith.

Two people browsing bookshop window

Buying books without using Amazon

Amazon started out as an online bookseller. But bookshops existed before Amazon and there are still many available as alternatives.

Independent bookshops

Despite nearly twenty years of decline in the number of independent bookshops in the UK, with numbers cut in half from 1995 to 2021, independent bookshops have been making a strong comeback and 2022 marked the sixth consecutive year of growth taking us to a record-breaking 1,072 bookshops.

As a whole, the book publishing industry has historically been overwhelmingly white and straight. According to the UK Publishers Association’s 2022 figures, that is currently still the case, although representation in the workforce is slowly increasing for ethnic minority people, LGBTQ+ people, and disabled people.

Independent bookshops can offer an antidote to trends in publishing, and have often been important political and social spaces and mini utopias away from bigotry and censorship. Such spaces can choose to platform otherwise marginalised voices, including women of colour, marginalised genders, queer voices, and translations into English. Independent bookshops can also provide spaces for self-published writers from the local community.

Bookshops and community

There are many independent bookshops around the UK that provide a different experience to bookshop chains. We asked our readers for their favourites, which included:

  • Category Is Books in Glasgow
  • Juno Books in Sheffield
  • Toppings in Ely
  • Scarthin Bookshop in Cromford
  • October Books in Southampton
  • Lighthouse Books in Edinburgh
  • The Watermill in Aberfeldy
  • Barter Books in Northumberland
  • Jacqson Diego Story Emporium in Essex

Readers mentioned knowledgeable and friendly staff, being able to find local authors, good coffee, interesting books stocked, being in a comforting and inspiring space, seeing books about the local area, and independent bookshops as multi-purpose community spaces. You can read more about the above bookshops at the end of this guide, along with an interview with Juno Books.

One bookshop even “made headlines around the world a while back when (facing a rent rise) they bought redundant bank premises and transferred all the stock along the road via a human chain.”

There are many other examples all over the UK, so go and explore your local community bookshop. If there isn’t one where you live, perhaps that’s a calling.

How to find local and independent bookshops

The Bookseller’s Association has an online bookshop search tool on its website where you can search by your location and filter results to include secondhand and/or independent booksellers only. It says that it covers around 95% of bookshops, so not all bookshops will be listed.

The Alliance of Radical Booksellers unites booksellers that are informed by socialist, anarchist, environmental, feminist, or anti-racist concerns and stock books which inspire, support, or report on political and/or personal change. Its members can be found on its website.

High street bookshops

If your local town doesn't have an independent bookshop, you may well have a high street chain bookshop such as Waterstones or WHSmith.

How ethical is Waterstones?

Waterstones is the largest UK dedicated book retailer. It styles itself as “Your Local Bookshop”, despite having over 280 bookshops across the UK. It’s true in the sense that you’re likely to find one of its shops where you live and they do sometimes have local sections. It says that it’s “the last surviving national bookshop chain” but that’s because it’s acquired many of the others. It owns Foyles, Hatchards, Wordery and bought Blackwell’s in 2022.

It’s owned by US firm Elliott Investment Management which is renowned for buying the debts of struggling countries on the cheap and pursuing them for full repayment. Since we last updated the booksellers guide we’ve developed a policy and transparency rating for investment companies. Elliott Investment lost marks for its lack of ethical policies and this affected Waterstones’ score which has gone down from 7 to 3.5. This places it near the bottom of the ethical score table, just a few points above Amazon. Elliott also lost marks for political donations, lobbying and excessive pay – the highest paid director of its UK arm received over £11million in 2021.

How ethical is WHSmith?

WHSmith is a physical and online newsagent and bookseller. Most of its physical branches are in travel locations such as stations and airports and it has operations in 30 countries. It owns the American Marshall Retail Group which has shops in dozens of Las Vegas casinos.

For a large multinational it has decent policies, getting best ratings for supply chain management and tax conduct, but it did lose marks for excessive director pay and operations in oppressive regimes.

Buying books online

There are two broad categories of online bookshops which are alternatives to Amazon. There are online retailers who work on their own, and there are some online shops who support local independent bookshops. We outline both types below.

Online bookshops

Bookshops which fall into this category include AbeBooks (owned by Amazon), Alibris, Amazon, Apple, AwesomeBooks, Books Etc, Biblio, eBay, Google, Guardian Bookshop, Rakuten Kobo, Wordery (now owned by Waterstones), and World of Books.

Some of these sell new and secondhand books, some sell only secondhand books.

World of Books was founded in 2005 and is an online-only bookshop which focuses on secondhand books and other media. It’s majority-owned by private equity firm, Livingbridge. It raises money for book-related charities through its World of Books Foundation and is a certified B Corporation. It promotes circularity with its Ziffit app which you can use to trade in your old books.

Online bookshops which support local bookshops

When you buy a book from Bookshop.org it lets you choose a specific bookshop to support. They receive 30% of the cover price. If you don’t select a specific bookshop, 10% of the cover price of your order goes into an earnings pool that is evenly distributed among participating independent bookshops each month.

Hive is an online bookseller that supports local high street bookshops by paying them a 10% cut of its sales. This rises to 25% if you collect your online order from a physical shop. Once you’ve bought your book you can choose which bookshop receives your money. Hive is a small operation, owned by the much larger Little Group, a British company which specialises in book wholesale and library supply. It got worst ratings for carbon and environmental reporting and lost half a mark for excessive director pay.

Litalist is a small British company established in 2020. It’s a platform that lets you buy books from your local independent bookshop and share book recommendations with other users. It recently joined the Authorshare scheme, paying 10% of the profits from a secondhand book to the author.

Search and buy from ethical bookshops from one site

If you want to search multiple ethical platforms at once, take a look at the Ethical Book Search from Ethical Revolution. The site searches the more ethical choices of book retailers in one search and can be adjusted for different countries, format, new or secondhand etc. Results are presented in order of price from each bookshop, and also with their Ethiscore rating, so you can make an informed choice as to which retailer to use. You can also filter out which ones not to use in your search.

Monopoloy board with Amazon on most spaces

Audiobooks and ebooks

Audiobook streaming and subscription models are rising in popularity. Audible is owned by Amazon, and dominates audiobook subscriptions. It has been criticised by authors for being opaque about their earnings. Writers receive a percentage of the overall pool of money made from these services, rather than a cut of their titles’ sales, often less than the royalty stated in their contract.

Moreover, Audible’s ‘easy exchange’ policy allows customers to return audiobooks after having listened to them entirely, the costs of which are then deducted from writers’ royalties. Authors and narrators are leading the #Audiblegate campaign, arguing that authors, publishers and narrators should only be liable for ‘true returns’, i.e., when listeners have only got through 25% of the audiobook.

Alternatives to Amazon for audio books

For alternatives to Audible see our score table for which providers offer audio books (marked with an [A] next to the brand name). Some of the higher scoring brands include Audiobooks.com, Alibris, Better World Books, Books Etc, Bookshop.org, Hive, Oxfam, World of Books and Xigxag.

Audiobooks.com is an audiobook subscription service. It’s owned by Swedish company Storytel which sells audiobooks in many countries and languages. It got worst ratings for environmental reporting and supply chain management and lost marks in a few other categories including excessive director pay, however, it got a reasonable Ethiscore of 9, much better than Audible’s 0.

Our audiobook Best Buy is xigxag which, unlike Audible, doesn’t require a monthly subscription. Instead, it charges you less the more books you buy. On its website it says that the first five books you buy will cost you £7.99 but once you’ve bought 20, the price will drop to £3.99. It has developed the x-book which combines the ebook and audiobook and allows you to switch between the two or read while you listen. Xigxag is a B corporation based in Cornwall.

Alternatives to Amazon for ebooks

Our scoretable also shows where you can buy ebooks (marked with an [E] next to the brand name). But an increasing number of people read ebooks without paying for them – up to 24%. Pirating ebooks might seem harmless, and it may be the only option for those struggling to pay for essentials. But the authors don’t get paid.

Our ebook Best Buy is Ebooks.com.

Free ebooks and audiobooks

If you are looking for free ebooks Project Gutenberg – a US-based not-for-profit – provides free access to e-versions of books no longer under copyright.

Nearly all public libraries in the UK lend ebooks and audio books for free.

Buying secondhand and using libraries

Buying secondhand books

For those of us who still want to hold a physical book or don’t have internet access, buying secondhand books is a no-brainer in terms of cutting the environmental costs of book production and saving money. In the UK, around 32% of print books sold are secondhand.

Bookshops selling secondhand books received a positive mark in the Product Sustainability column.

And buying secondhand no longer has to mean that authors lose out. Authorshare, gives royalties for used book sales. Read our contribution from the Society of Authors further down to find out more.

Our recommended and best buy brands which sell secondhand books are: Awesome Books, Better World Books, Biblio, Oxfam and World of Books. Other secondhand sellers are Alibris and eBay.

Use the public library for free

We have a fantastic library service in this country. Libraries provide free access to books for all as well as a range of other essential services, particularly for those most affected by the rise in the cost of living. As well as physical books, most now lend ebooks and audiobooks through the Borrow Box and Libby apps. Some lend ereaders too. You can also suggest new books for your library to buy and they’ll often take up your suggestion. In the past all libraries charged fines for overdue books but that’s changing and many no longer charge fines, at least not for children.

To find your local public library visit your local authority website. It's free to join public libraries in the UK.

Bookshop or library

Sustainability issues and bookshops

Paper sourcing

We only rated a few companies for their paper sourcing. Most companies only retail books so have no control over where the paper comes from. However, WHSmith sells own-brand stationery, The Guardian sells newspapers, and Daunt and Storytel (Audiobooks.com) are publishers as well as retailers.

To get a best rating we look for over 75% recycled paper use and no company achieved this. The Guardian and Storytel got middle ratings and Daunt and WHSmith got worst ratings.

Carbon footprint of ebooks vs print books

Reading is a low-carbon activity – when you’re reading, you’re probably not doing high-carbon things like driving or shopping – so you shouldn’t fret too much about how you’re doing it. But nowadays we do have a choice of medium which may affect our carbon footprints.

The carbon footprint of books varies depending on their size, type of paper and whether they contain photos, but Mike Berners-Lee calculates that a regular paperback has a footprint of 1 kg CO2e. He estimates that ereaders have a footprint of 36 kg CO2e without taking into account the electricity used to download files. So, you’d have to get through 36 paperbacks before you equalled the embodied emissions of the ereader.

Other studies with different methodologies have come up with figures higher and lower than this. But overall, the conclusion is that casual readers should probably stick to print books and bookworms should consider getting an ereader, or you could choose secondhand or borrowed books.

Are books vegan?

Although it might be obvious whether a book has a leather cover or not, it’s less obvious whether other elements of books contain animal products. For those wanting to avoid any use of animal products, we looked into whether the other elements of books, such as glue, could be animal-based.

Historically, animal-based glue was the norm, and included animal parts such as connective tissue, skin, or bones. According to one source, animal-based glues are now only really used to restore historical volumes.

We couldn’t find reliable information about what adhesives were currently used for new book production, so we contacted seven of the largest book publishers in the UK to ask them what adhesives they used for their books. Canongate Books got back to us. They said that the book industry now uses EVA (Ethylene-vinyl Acetate), although some printers specialise in PUR (Polyurethane Reactive adhesive) which is stronger.

Use of leather

The retailers of physical books lost marks in our animal rights category for the sale of leather. Leather isn’t used very often to bind books any more – if it looks like leather, it’s likely to be faux – but it is still occasionally used for collectible editions and things like dictionaries and bibles.

None of the companies had policies saying that they didn’t stock leather items so we assumed that they all did. As the quantity of leather books sold was likely to be low, we only deducted half marks. Two companies, Daunt and Storytel (the owner of audiobooks.com), were also publishers of physical books. As they were responsible for the production of books and not just retail, they also lost half marks in the pollution and toxics category because of the polluting chemicals used in the leather curing process.

Price comparison of different booksellers

We compared the prices of four book titles across four different booksellers in August 2023, with two selling new books and two selling secondhand books. We chose fiction, non-fiction, memoir, and a children’s book. Since this is a very small sample size, what is presented here is only illustrative.

All prices are for paperback versions, unless stated. Also note that Waterstones has physical bookshops and Books Etc doesn’t, and some online booksellers provide free delivery while others don’t.

Sample books and prices by different booksellers
Book title Waterstones (new) Books Etc (new) World of Books (secondhand) Better World Books (secondhand)
Girl, Woman, Other £9.99 £9.14 £3.70 £3.85
What a Fish Knows £9.99 £8.03 £3.50 £6.61
Almost Brown
(hardback)
£23.00 £13.88 £16.29 £21.97
The Tiger Who Came
to Tea
£7.99 £6.82 £3.49 £3.85

If you're looking to save money, there are also lots of book swapping sites around the country, often in stations and old phone boxes. And you can always swap books with your friends.

How do booksellers rate for supply chain management?

We exempted companies that only sell books from this rating. The rating assesses what companies are doing to protect workers’ rights in their supply chains and expects companies to audit factories to check how workers are being treated.

In the book business, it’s publishers who produce books so it’s their responsibility to protect supply chain workers. Only Daunt Books and Audiobooks.com’s owner Storytel are publishers as well as retailers so the rating was applied and both got a worst.

Ebooks.com and Xigxag were also exempt because they don’t make any physical products.

The remaining companies produce things other than books (such as phones and newspapers) and so the full rating was applied. Only Oxfam and WHSmith got best ratings, Apple got a middle, and Google, Guardian Bookshop, Rakuten Kobo, Amazon, and eBay got worst ratings.


Excessive director pay and tax conduct in the bookselling industry

Five companies got worst ratings in both these categories: Amazon, (AbeBooks, Audible), Apple, eBay, Google, and Waterstones (Blackwell’s, Foyles, Hatchards, Wordery).

Inequality and access to books

According to a World of Books survey from 2022, the average UK household has 124 books. However, this average figure hides a lot of differences between households and different people.

Books are a joy which should be accessible for all; however, physically accessing books, low income, illiteracy, and barriers for visually impaired people mean that many people aren’t able to read as they would like to.

According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), there are over 2 million people with visually impaired sight in the UK, which is around 3% of the population. This includes a variety of people with differing levels of vision, from some to none at all. The same RNIB statistics show that women and ethnic minority groups of people are at a greater risk of developing sight loss, due to complicated factors which include societal barriers as well as age.

RNIB has a library of braille books with an online library catalogue on its website. Books are delivered for free for users to then keep or share. Other examples of book collections in braille include the Scottish Braille Press and Clearvision Project lending library for children. The rise of ebooks and audiobooks has also made things more accessible.

However, despite these alternatives, there is still a long way to go in making books and reading more accessible, particularly for those with very little or no sight at all. Audiobook alternatives do not exist for many books and textbooks, and only around 5% of book titles are available in braille format, according to Vision Foundation.

How to support access to books

Supporting indie publishing houses

If you’re looking for something you can’t find, there are a lot of small, independent publishers which have their own bookshops online where you can buy directly from them. Buying in this way funds independent publishing houses which often support more diverse types of writers.

There is a online directory of independent UK publishers that you can explore. These range from Charco Press, specialising in translations of contemporary Latin American literature, to Verso, a large publisher of mostly non-fiction titles on everything from anthropology to sexuality.

A fair deal for authors

Where should you shop if you want authors to get paid fairly?

Martin Reed, Head of Communications at the Society of Authors, passes on his tips.

Every author wants their books to reach as many readers as possible. But of course they also deserve to be paid. A creative career can be difficult to sustain at the best of times, and in recent years we’ve seen a dramatic fall in authors’ incomes, with a 2022 survey from the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society finding that the median income of a full-time professional author is just £7,000.

There are many reasons for these low incomes – publishing is a complex industry – but you can make a difference simply by making a few informed choices about where you buy your books.

I’ll look mainly at books in print. I won’t dwell on the unsustainable sources of books – ranging from websites offering free illegal downloads (which ultimately harm everyone, including the readers), to highly discounted books sold in supermarkets and bargain retailers (which earn authors a fraction of their regular income). But I hope the pointers below will help you onto sustainable routes to discovering new books and authors.

Buying books on the high street

When you buy a book from an independent bookshop or a high street book chain such as Waterstones the author is likely to receive a full royalty (the author’s cut on the sale of the book) from your purchase. Not only is this good for the author but high street bookshops are also a physical showcase of the importance of reading, with many playing an important community role as venues for reading groups, book launches and live literature.

But bookshops face increasing financial challenges.

Although they can’t compete with online retailers and supermarkets on price alone because of higher costs, what they do offer is a book browsing and buying experience that can’t be matched elsewhere. And don’t forget that if your small local bookshop doesn’t have the book you’re looking for in stock, they can order it in for you just as easily as the biggest online retailer can.

Buying books online

Online book sales have been dominated by one retailer for too long. However, there are some excellent online alternatives if you know where to look. Bookshop.org is not only a convenient platform to order your next read, it will also let you select your favourite independent bookshop during the purchase and will pay them a commission from your sale. Since it launched in the UK in 2020, Bookshop.org has paid over £3 million to local bookshops across the UK. Many authors are signed up as affiliates, so clicking a link from an author’s website will often earn them an extra commission.

Litalist.com and Hive.co.uk both offer similar support for independent bookshops.

Public libraries

Did you know that every time you borrow a book from your local public library for free, the author still receives a payment? Not only do they receive a royalty on the initial purchase of their book by the library, they also receive a payment of around 8p (called the Public Lending Right) each time their book is borrowed. This applies to all formats of the book – print, ebook, and audiobook – and makes up an important additional income for many authors. And with many local libraries facing cuts and closure, it’s vitally important that you support yours.

Used book sales

Authors have not traditionally received payments from secondhand sales. This started to change in June 2021 with the launch of Authorshare. Through the scheme, authors can now receive a royalty on used copies of their books from secondhand retailers World of Books and Litalist. We hope that more secondhand retailers will join them soon.

For a more in-depth look at book buying choices, visit the Society of Authors website or watch the recording of our ‘industry insider’ event on ethical book buying.

Your favourite independent bookshops

There are many independent bookshops around the UK that provide a different experience to bookshop chains. When we were undertaking the research for this guide we asked our readers to tell us about their favourite bookshops. Here are some of the responses we particularly liked.

Category Is Books in Glasgow. On its website it says, “Category Is Books is an independent LGBTQIA+ bookshop in the southside of Glasgow. We hope the bookshop is a space to learn about, be inspired by and share in our love of queer books, history, art, activism, writing and storytelling.” The reader said that it was “An endlessly inspiring and such an important space”.

Two readers recommended Toppings in Ely. They both said that the staff were very knowledgeable and friendly, had “huge stock including local authors and local interest”, and signed and unusual first editions. They also mentioned the coffee.

Two readers chose Scarthin Bookshop in Cromford. “It’s a quirky, excellent bookshop in a lovely setting – overlooking the millpond in an attractive and interesting village. It's a three-storey terraced house completely stuffed with books, including up the stairs (to the extent it needed structural work a few years ago – crowd-funded). It has both new and secondhand. I like its selection, including many books about the local area. The staff are helpful. It has a great café (vegan). I've enjoyed visiting it (from Nottingham) for nearly 50 years.”

October Books in Southampton. “Not just books, they also sell fair trade foods, refills for washing up liquid etc., and run a community café, and more. Made headlines around the world a while back when (facing a rent rise) they bought redundant bank premises and transferred all the stock along the road via a human chain.”

Lighthouse Books in Edinburgh. “They live and breathe human rights, diversity, inclusion, equity, sustainability, and all-out radicalism. They have super-friendly staff, hold fantastic events in their lovely little garden, run brilliant book subscription schemes and curated book selections, and they run an awesome ‘pay it forward’ scheme so you can sub a book for someone who needs one. Everything a bookshop should be!”

The Watermill in Aberfeldy. “As well as being a helpful, knowledgeable, interestingly stocked bookshop it's a gallery and excellent, comfortable cafe where you can browse, read the papers, or just relax. And the building is fascinating and beautifully restored.”

Two readers chose Barter Books in Northumberland. “A secondhand bookshop – but the best shop I have ever been in! It is in the old railway station and retains the platform toilets, a log fire in the waiting room with easy chairs, a model railway connecting shelves, coffee, and biscuits with an honesty box etc etc etc. Sheer delight!”

Jacqson Diego Story Emporium in Essex. “They are a not-for-profit, social enterprise, children's bookshop. The bookshop has been around for over 10 years. The shop is small but provides a calming, comforting space, with plenty of seating and beautifully displayed, easy to browse, shelves of books. The staff are incredibly welcoming and always happy to recommend books for all age groups. They discuss their recommendations with the children without ever talking down to them. I love taking my grandkids to Jacqson Diego and seeing how happy and interested they are, either to choose some new books by their favourite authors, or to discuss new suggested books with the staff.”

Two women standing infront of bookshelves

Q&A with Juno Books, Sheffield

Juno Books is an independent, queer, and women-owned intersectional feminist community bookshop in Sheffield, which opened its doors in 2022. The bookshop’s manifesto includes that it “will always carry a majority of books written by women and queer people” and that its space is “actively intersectional, anti-racist, anti-classist, anti-ableist and LGBTQ+ and trans inclusive”.

Ethical Consumer: Why do you think that independent bookshops are important?

Juno Books: Independent bookshops are so important in many different ways; the mutual support between bookshops and the communities they serve is a crucial part of why people keep returning to them and many people see them as a very welcome sight on an increasingly homogeneous high street. Particularly for women, LGBTQ+ people and others whose voices have been marginalised, our shop provides a warm and friendly space in which they can find themselves and their experiences validated and reflected back at them. The range of social events and readings we offer allows our customers to build community, solidarity and friendships which is just such a lovely thing to play a part in supporting.

EC: As a small independent business, how do you keep a loyal customer base when competing with the likes of Amazon?

Juno Books: We provide a level of service and experience that the likes of Amazon cannot achieve. We are a very small bookshop specialising in feminist and queer titles, which means we know our stock really well. Not only do we enjoy hand-selling books to our customers based on their recent favourites and preferences, and talking about books that we have recently enjoyed, but we also put on a wide range of events and book groups and have built a strong community online which complements this.

EC:What do you most enjoy about owning and running your bookshop?

Juno Books: We love chatting to customers and giving them recommendations, and slowly getting to know these lovely people through the books they enjoy. Being surrounded by wonderful books and bookish people every day is a real joy and privilege. We also love reading proofs and getting sneak peeks of exciting forthcoming books – this part is still very thrilling for us!

EC: What has been the greatest struggle in running your bookshop?

Juno Books: Happily, many of the struggles of running a bookshop don’t actually relate to the selling of books, and mostly revolve around persistent and time-consuming irritations regarding utility companies, to which we suspect many small businesses may relate. The cost-of-living crisis obviously has an impact on our day-to-day trading and has made this year difficult to predict in terms of sales forecasts, but this has encouraged us to diversify what we do and try to get as many books into as many people’s hands as possible!

EC: People can also buy from you via Bookshop.org. How much has using Bookshop.org made a difference for your business? A little, or a lot?

Juno Books: Bookshop.org has been really useful for us as a very small indie bookshop. We don’t have the time or space to manage our own online shop, and bookshop.org has allowed us to access a much bigger audience and has become an important source of regular income for us. Customers from far and wide who can’t support us in person enjoy being able to help us out in this way. It’s a truly excellent website, run by a team of very friendly and dedicated people who care deeply about indie bookselling, and one that we are very proud to be a part of.

Additional research by Shanta Bhavnani.

The abbreviations in the score table indicate what types of books are sold: [P] = print, [E] = ebooks, [A] = audiobooks.

This guide features in Ethical Consumer magazine 205.

Company profile

Daunt Books has physical shops in London, Oxford, Buckinghamshire, and Essex.

It’s an independent chain of bookshops, but James Daunt, the founder and co-owner is also the managing director of Waterstones and the CEO of US bookshop chain Barnes & Noble. Daunt Books is a small company with a turnover of less than £10.2 million. We found little information regarding the company's ethical policies, so it lost marks across six of our categories.

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