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Local booksellers push back against Amazon with #BoxedOut campaign

Harvard Book Store will display poster boards encouraging people not to buy books from Amazon on Saturday afternoon.
Harvard Book Store will display poster boards encouraging people not to buy books from Amazon on Saturday afternoon.Harvard Book Store

Independent bookstores nationwide are rallying for survival with a newfound “Boxed Out” campaign that denounces the company threatening the industry’s existence: Amazon.

In Boston and beyond, shops posted harsh messaging against the retail giant in their storefronts and on social media starting Wednesday — only days after its once-a-year savings event, Prime Day. The signs and Instagram posts bore sentiments such as “Don’t let bookstores become a work of fiction” and “If you want Amazon to be the world’s only retailer, keep shopping there.”

Allison Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, a nonprofit organization for retailers that created the program, said this year’s pushback against Prime Day is especially important.

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Indie booksellers are grappling with both the debilitating effects of the pandemic and the growing dominance of Amazon, said Hill, a Tufts University graduate, who stepped into her role in March and is the first woman to lead the ABA.

“COVID would be the cause of death [for these bookstores],” Hill explained. “But Amazon would be the pre-existing condition. … The world is a little bit under Amazon’s trance. We look out our windows, and I can see porches down my street with Amazon boxes sitting on them. Those boxes have become a norm that we expect, and I think it’s time to connect the dots between them and the impact on our communities.”

Cafe Con Libro in Brooklyn, N.Y., was one of the first bookstores to put #BoxedOut materials on its windows.
Cafe Con Libro in Brooklyn, N.Y., was one of the first bookstores to put #BoxedOut materials on its windows.American Booksellers Association

The ABA debuted the campaign with six installations in multiple cities such as New York and Los Angeles. But the marketing materials are available to all sellers nationwide, Hill said. Harvard Book Store, Papercuts in Jamaica Plain, and Nantucket’s Bookworks are among several local spots supporting #BoxedOut.

Sellers across the country have slipped into a precarious financial situation these past six months. In a July ABA survey, 20 percent of sellers said they faced the threat of closing before the end of the year. At least one bookstore has closed every week since the COVID-19 crisis began, Hill said. And the publishing industry has been turned upside down.

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Amazon, on the other hand, doubled its net profits in July.

The timing of the #BoxedOut campaign aligns with the lead up to the holiday season, which is often the most profitable and important quarter for retailers.

Harvard Book Store published an open letter Thursday explaining its financial state and asking customers to begin their holiday hauls earlier. “Despite the decline in our revenue, expenses have increased,” it read. “It is no secret the holiday season helps subsidize retail operations for the year.”

General manager Alex Meriwether encouraged bibliophiles to shop early to save the shelves they love.

“The holiday season is vitally important for retailers in a normal year,” he said. “And this is not a normal year. We need people to realize there are real consequences to what seems like an easy button to click. Bookstores may not exist at the end of that Amazon path.”

Co-owner of Porter Square Books, David Sandberg, said the Cambridge store opted not to use ABA materials but fully supports the campaign. Bookstores are just the “poster child,” he said, for the industries Amazon’s business model has wrecked.

“No one is doing as well as they should,” Sandberg explained. “Everyone’s hurting to different degrees, but Amazon’s not. Even if you’re shopping online, you can still shop local.”

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Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ditikohli_.