Many Americans are doing more than protesting systemic racism. They are educating themselves on it and in unprecedented numbers.

Since the death of George Floyd on May 25, sales of books on race and racism have been skyrocketing. Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after a white police officer in Minneapolis knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe.

“The time has arrived for a mass revolution of anti-racist consciousness. Racism can no longer be ignored,” says Layla F. Saad, author of “Me and White Supremacy” and the host of the “Good Ancestor Podcast.” “More people with white privilege than ever before are listening, and they are ready to do the work.” 

Major chains like Amazon and Barnes & Noble sold out of the print editions of several popular titles online early in the week, including most of the seven nonfiction books on race that appear on this week’s USA TODAY Best-Selling Books list.

Either returning or debuting on the list were:

  • “White Fragility,” by Robin DiAngelo at No. 6
  • “How to Be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi at No. 9
  • “The New Jim Crow,” by Michelle Alexander at No. 53,
  • “So You Want to Talk About Race,” by Ijeoma Oluo at No. 54
  • “Me and White Supremacy,” by Layla F. Saad at No. 83
  • “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” by Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley at No. 86
  • “Just Mercy,” by Bryan Stevenson at No. 93.

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Barnes & Noble addressed the shortage in a statement to USA TODAY: “We were heartened to see the surge in sales of these books in response to the news, and we are working hard to replenish any print editions that are sold out.” In an email sent out to customers, the book retailer offered a curated list of anti-racism books saying, “books are a conduit for learning, growing and providing insight into the lives and thoughts of those we may not know … but with whom we may discover we share much in common.”

It’s not just the larger book retailers that are selling out.

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According to the American Booksellers Association (ABA), independent book stores are selling more books on race and racism than ever before. IndieCommerce, ABA’s e-commerce platform that supports the websites of approximately 590 independent book stores, had to have four major technological upgrades just to keep up.

“Over the last 10 days ABA has seen unprecedented sales volume driven by demand for books on anti-racism,” says CEO Allison Hill,  noting that since May 31,  the association has had its biggest daily sales volumes ever. And that is despite the fact that many bookstores have either closed or turned to curbside pickup due to COVID-19.

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Publishers are working hard to get more print editions out. Sourcebooks, the publisher of Saad’s “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor” was in the middle of a new printing for the book when demand hit. They decided to add two more printings totaling 100,000 copies, but even that may not be enough, and more printings may be added. Saad is currently working on a young-reader edition of her book.

Ellen Adler, the publisher of The New Press, also says they are going back to press on several titles, including Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” Paul Butler’s “Chokehold: Policing Black Men” and “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools,” by Monique W. Morris.

“I vacillate personally between total despair and hope,” says Adler. “The frustration that people are feeling now is not new, but something is different this time. … It’s complicated though. Obviously, one feels terrible that book sales are being fueled by a tragedy, but in a positive way, these books may be a way to help solve some of the challenges that we are facing.”

As of now, most retailers do not have an official date as to when their stock will be replenished. “Everyone who sells books is awaiting word about when the publishers will have some of these anti-racist bestsellers back in stock,” says Hill. Though some publishers, such as Sourcebooks, say they will make getting copies of print books to independent booksellers a priority. So you might want to contact your local book store. 

Infosnips So then how do I get books about race right now? 

Until retailers are able to replenish their print stock, digital books are still available, and you don’t need an e-reader to download them.

Major distributors of e-books, including Google, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Apple, offer ways, including apps on your smartphone, to download an e-book.

Audiobooks are also easier to access than print right now. Consumers can download books from retailers like Audible.com and Libro.fm

Both digital and audiobooks can also be purchased through many independent booksellers. 

Library apps, such as Libby, are an additional avenue to access the books, though there may be long waits there, as well. 

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