Move over, Amazon: There’s a New Book Player in Town
It’s got better ethics and the good kind of exponential graph
Online store Bookshop.org launched in January 2020 in Beta form. Its mission, stated on the website, is “to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community”.
A seamless new way to shop from indie bookshops
For customers, it’s an easy storefront: search for a book, add it to your cart, and it appears at your home as soon as two or three days later, fulfilled by Ingram, the wholesaler which supplies most indies. It’s a smooth and easy process which has the advantage of helping out often struggling independent bookshops rather than lining the pockets of a billionaire with questionable ethics and an ever-increasing grip on the book market.
Bookshop.org is also a great place to discover new books — their home page features lists such as Current Indie Bestsellers, Women’s History Month Favorites, Surviving a Pandemic, or Popular Activity Books for Kids at Home. Lists also appear elsewhere, for example at the bottom of each individual book page.
Financial support for indies
And for bookstores, it’s a great way to earn extra cash: every six months, the profit generated for them gets split between participating indies. Shops can also become affiliates, which means they get substantial commission on all sales generated by links they post in their newsletters or on their social media, for example. At a precarious time for local businesses like this one, every penny counts — and there’s a lot more than a few pennies at stake.
Bookshop.org’s website shows the running total of money raised for bookstores. On Thursday 19th March, they had reached $70,000. By Tuesday 31st — less than two weeks later— they had passed a major milestone: they’d raised $200,000 for bookshops. By Friday 2nd April, it was $300,000, and it’s looking likely to reach $400,000 by Tuesday 7th, doubling in a week. That’s the kind of exponential graph I can get behind.
Increasing support in the publishing world
Bookshop.org’s reach is only likely to increase, with major publisher Simon and Schuster announcing on Friday that they are adding buy buttons for the indie storefront to the books on their website.
Possible reasons for rapid growth
There are lots of reasons for Bookshop.org’s increasing success: it’s likely that even without current events momentum would have grown, as word of the new service spread through word of mouth and media coverage calling Bookshop.org David to Amazon’s Goliath. But it’s no coincidence that it’s snowballing now, for several reasons — and not just because people are stockpiling books for their time of social isolation.
With the increasingly tight regulations in many American cities and the grief for our former way of life, many readers are probably keener than ever to support the local bookshops they love and make sure they are still there when all of this ends.
Amazon, by contrast, is likely doing very well out of this pandemic, with people using them for both panic buying and basic necessities, as well as Prime Now delivery so they can avoid grocery stores. And now that the online behemoth is deprioritising books, there’s less reason than ever to shop there for our reading needs.
At the same time, though, it can be hard to keep track of exactly which bookshop in your town is doing what, as they struggle to adapt to changing circumstances and local laws, often working with skeleton staff, different opening hours, and variations on curbside pickup, delivery, and shipping. If you’re already struggling to work remotely while homeschooling your kids and keeping everyone in your household fed and relatively content, it’s a lot easier to head to one central website knowing you’re doing good for indies generally.
The not-so-little website that could
“I think as long as we don’t reach a certain level of success we’re going to fly under [Amazon’s] radar,” founder Andy Hunter told Forbes back in the long-distant times of February this year. But it looks like Bookshop.org’s days of being under the radar might be rapidly coming to an end.
Claire Handscombe is the author of Unscripted, a smart read about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan. She also wrote Conquering Babel: a Practical Guide to Learning a Language, and edited a book by and for fans of her favourite series, Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.
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