A new industry fundraising initiative is being launched today in order to help independent booksellers and comic shops recover from the financial effects of Covid-19 pandemic.

The Survive to Thrive grant program, created by Ingram Content Group chairman John Ingram, hopes to raise a total of $2 million by the end of May to support indie bookstores. The program will be administered by the Book Industry Charitable (Binc) Foundation. Initial donations include a $500,000 contribution from Ingram Charities and Ingram Content Group and significant gifts from Bookshop.org and four of the Big Five publishers.

John Ingram told PW that, while Ingram Content Group had a good 2020, he was more than aware that many in the book business were not nearly so fortunate. “The pandemic has been incredibly hard for certain businesses,” Ingram said, noting that, in talking to different industry players, it became clear to him that many independent bookstores in particular—"the gem of many communities,” as Ingram called them—could use an economic boost.

Ingram explained that the objective of the grants is to help booksellers that had been doing well before the pandemic struck, but which suffered significant losses as a result of months-long lockdown policies implemented nationwide last March, get back onto firm footing. “We want to provide a bridge to help stores recover,” Ingram said.

Bookshop.org, which launched last January and saw strong sales in 2020, has contributed $250,000 to the initiative. Andy Hunter, the company's founder and CEO, agreed with Ingram that bookstores should not be forced to worry about staying in business due to one bad season, or even a global pandemic. In addition to the $750,000 in contributions from Ingram and Bookshop.org, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Penguin Random House have collectively contributed another $250,000.

Binc executive director Pam French said that the plan is to give $10,000 grants to as many as 200 stores. The $10,000 amount, she explained, was chosen after discussions with booksellers, who said that the figure was enough of make a significant difference to bookstores looking firm up post-pandemic. The total number of grants offered by the program will depend on the results of fundraising efforts.

French said that the grants will be reviewed by a jury of at least three independent reviewers, and applications will be judged based on a set of criteria that Binc is finalizing. (Some of those criteria will include, for instance, ownership structure of the business, whether the majority of a store's income comes from the sale of books or comic books, and an applicant's "vision and plan to ensure your store thrives in 2021 and beyond.") French promised that applicants will be granted complete confidentiality; jurors will not know the names of the stores whose applications they will review.

Binc is putting the experience it gained from overseeing the ABA and James Patterson–backed #SaveIndieBookstores campaign this spring to work on the Survive to Thrive campaign, which represents a significant scale-up, French said. The goal, she added, is for the campaign to start accepting applications by mid-April, with grants distributed by early June.

“Binc’s mission to support the independent booksellers through difficult times is more important than ever, and we are grateful to Ingram for spearheading this major fundraising initiative,” Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch said in a statement. “Hachette is a longtime supporter of Binc and the independent booksellers who are so essential to books, authors, and reading, and we’re proud to be part of Binc’s Survive to Thrive initiative in this urgent moment.”

Josh Marwell, HarperCollins president of sales, added: “One of the lessons of the pandemic will be the role that books and authors played in helping the public get through very difficult times and the aid and comfort local bookstores provided to their communities in bringing authors and readers together. There are thousands of examples of how the nation’s independent booksellers quickly rallied, developed new ways of doing business and were beacons of hope for better times. Now is a critical time for independent booksellers and we are so proud to support Binc’s Survive to Thrive Initiative.”

"The independent bookstores of America are critical to our bookselling environment, and now more than ever we all need to rely on each other," Don Weisberg, CEO of Macmillan Publishers, said. "Macmillan is proud to partner with Binc and play our part in this worthy campaign."

Jaci Updike, president of sales at Penguin Random House U.S., called it a “privilege for Penguin Random House, with our contribution, to acknowledge and to join in advancing the indispensable contributions of Binc to the independent bookstore and comic shop community.” She added: “In this time when the availability of wide-ranging information and ideas is more necessary than ever to the future of society, Binc’s support of our authors and their books, by their heroic sustaining of a healthy small-business bookselling ecosystem, is cheering and inspiring.”

Ingram Content Group will continue to support the ongoing fundraising efforts through a variety of different initiatives, including the use of the company's social media assets. At the moment, John Ingram is thrilled with the initial support. “I am grateful to the companies that have already stepped up,” he said. “It speaks well of them, and of the companies they represent.”