United States (New York)
As Neil Gaiman wrote, ‘a town isn’t a town without a bookstore.’ So, in the age of internet shopping, what’s out there supporting our local bookstores? Let’s find out more about Bookshop.org, a new bookselling platform helping out the smaller sellers in the changing market…
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘print is dead’? Well, new bookselling platform Bookshop is here to tell you that it’s not – and that the online selling of print books might actually be a way for our local, independent booksellers to thrive.
Ironically, when Amazon was just starting out, from Jeff Bezos’ garage in 1994, the first item it sold was a book. By the end of 1995, it had sold books to people in all 50 US states. It’s a far cry from the big business juggernaut we know today. By the end of 2019, the infamous company accounted for more than 50% of the US print book market, with this continuing to grow throughout 2020. Buying books on Amazon is just a couple of clicks, a discounted price, a quick delivery. Sometimes, this convenience wins out. Readers need something that combines convenience with shopping small…
Enter Bookshop, an online bookselling platform where indie booksellers can unite to take on Amazon. Founded as recently as January 2020, the B-Corp’s success is seeing early growth similar in scale to Amazon’s. But this time, it’s not Bookshop’s founder and CEO Andy Hunter reaping the rewards Bezos-style – it’s your local indie booksellers.
Currently, Bookshop gives over 75% of its profits to stores, publications, authors and affiliates, and it’s super easy for booksellers to get in on it. Setting up a storefront on the site is as easy as setting up a Twitter account – once they’ve entered their info, they just have to recommend some books. Bookshop even handles all the fulfilment and shipping of all books sold on the site, so it comes at literally no cost to the bookseller.
While we all know that the best way to support our locals is to visit them in-store, 21st century life can often get in the way. We’re working, we’re travelling – or, alternatively, stuck at home with no shops open due to a global pandemic… So, spreading the online bookselling profits to include small sellers is more important than ever.
One such bookseller is Melanie Moore, owner of the Cincy Book Bus, a unique bookstore selling books from the bed of a vintage 1962 Volkswagen pickup truck. Booking it around Cincinnati, Ohio, the Cincy Book Bus is filled with lovingly handpicked reads, with all profits going towards donating new books to schools and local organisations.
“Local bookstores are at the heart of the community. They bring people together regardless of their backgrounds and unite them through the love of literature,” says Melanie. “Every independent bookstore I know gives back and builds into the community where they reside.” Bookshop has also supported small booksellers through the pandemic, getting them online quickly and hassle-free when it mattered most.
“Because of Bookshop, I was able to take my mobile business online. Little did I know in February [2020, when Melanie got set up with Bookshop] how important it would be to keep my business growing and thriving during a global pandemic. Due to my online presence, I have experienced record-breaking sales over the last year. I could not have done this without the support of Bookshop.”
Melanie says that Bookshop is important to the bookselling community. “Bookshop supports local, independent bookstores which in turn, supports the communities they serve,” she says. “Bookshop’s pricing and service is comparable to Amazon, who continue to challenge bookstore sales. I believe the initiative of Bookshop will positively change the way people buy books. Instead of turning to Amazon, people will turn to Bookshop because they know they will be contributing to the vitality and survival of independent bookstores.”
Not only is Cincy Book Bus’ success giving a whimsical, unique experience for locals and visitors seeing the bus rolling around Cincinnati, but local children are benefitting, too; the more business Cincy Book Bus gets, the more books Melanie can donate to schools.
Melanie’s story shows us how important small booksellers are to local communities. Cincy Book Bus gets books to schools and children in the local area, giving them key learning materials. Between the pages of books, children learn communication skills, become the characters and experience new things and situations which they wouldn’t get the chance to in their everyday lives. Studies have proven that this helps children develop empathy, engage with the world around them, and begin to understand that there are cultures, societies and people out there that are so different to their own. Clearly, the Cincy Book Bus is giving so much to these children, and is just one example of a local bookshop being an important asset to their community.
The UK has been given expedited access to Bookshop. After its massive success in the US in January 2020, Bookshop launched in the UK the following November, although it wasn’t expected until 2021. At the time of writing, Bookshop UK had already raised over £800,000, with the US site having raised over $11,000,000, to be divided up between the small booksellers registered with the sites. Bookshop is currently available also in Spain.
With books being an outlet for many, and important to the education, development and socialisation of everyone from children to adults, bookselling can be an ethical business that gives back to society. And it often is when we look to our indie bookshops.
Bookshop achieves the thing it’s difficult for so many indies to meet: critical mass. It brings choice to convenience and a community outlook. Suddenly, the bookselling industry can be a turning point for shopping and supporting small and local in general. Just like books can shape the minds of adults and children and the way we see the world, initiatives like Bookshop can continue to shape the business landscape for the better.
AtlasAction: Support the indie booksellers: next time you need a book, consider leaving Amazon aside and trying out Bookshop instead!
Header image: Daunt Books, London. Photo by Alexandra Kirr.
Andy Hunter, Founder and CEO
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