E-commerce and ebooks have changed the landscape for book sales and publishing. Gone are the days when avid readers would spend hours browsing a bookstore, and kids would come weekly for story readings.
Now, all you need to do is scroll through a page on Amazon, click a few buttons, and the books you want arrive at your doorstep the next day or so. Convenient, right?
As of 2018, Amazon claims 49% of all online sales in the US, accounting for 5% of all the country’s retail sales. When it comes to the book market, Amazon reportedly grew its share from 37% to 52% from 2016 to 2020.
In contrast, the independent bookstores are struggling to keep up with the developments of e-commerce. According to Andy Hunter, founder of Bookshop.org, 150 independent bookstores in the US have websites that earn 5 figures in their revenue yearly, with 25 stores reaching six figures.
A newcomer to the online bookselling game, Bookshop.org has its sights on challenging the e-commerce giant, Amazon.
What Is Bookshop.org?
Bookshop.org is a bookselling platform that aims to support independent bookstores. Its website sells books, and orders are fulfilled by leading book wholesaler and distributor Ingram.
On their About page, they describe the problem of declining interest in bookstores as follows:
“As more people buy their books online, we wanted to create an easy, convenient way to get your books and still support local bookstores. We also wanted to create a place where authors, groups, individuals, and publications can earn affiliate fees that benefit local bookstores.”
Bookshop originally intended to grow gradually. But the coronavirus pandemic closed down all physical bookstores around the world in March 2020.
In response, Bookshop upped its operations to help independent bookstores: in the two weeks since March 11, about 90 stores have signed up for its offer of virtual storefronts, reaching a total of 320 stores signed up.
Who Founded Bookshop?
Andy Hunter, Bookshop’s Founder and CEO, is known in independent bookstore circles for his book publisher background with Soft Skull Press, Counterpoint, and Catapult. He is also the founder of digital publisher Electric Literature, and co-founder of literary websites Crime Reads, Literary Hub, and Book Marks.
As early as 2010, Hunter already anticipated the changes coming to the bookselling world, so he started pitching the idea of Bookshop to a group of independent literary publishers.
“I was really concerned with Amazon’s rapid ascendance and what it would do to book culture,” he says in an article published on Wired.
In a letter written to the New England Independent Booksellers Association, Hunter assures booksellers:
“Bookshop will be a B-Corp, which is a corporation that puts our mission and the public good above financial interests. It is written in Bookshop’s bylaws that we will never sell the company to Amazon or any major US retailer. Our investors are individuals who appreciate the necessary function that bookstores serve in our society and culture. There’s no venture capital in Bookshop; we are in it for the long haul.”
What Does Bookshop Offer?
So now that we have a clearer idea of Bookshop’s mission, let’s take a look at what they’re doing to get there:
1. Financial partnership with local bookstores
Two ways that Bookshop partners with independent bookstores are:
- 10% of all non-bookstore affiliate sales on the website go to an earnings pool, which they then divide and distribute to participating American Booksellers Association (ABA) independent bookstores every six months
- ABA Bookstores who are part of the affiliate program selling books online using the Bookshop platform earn 25% commission on all sales they make. (A news article dated March 2020 on The Economist corrects this figure to 30% for member stores, in light of the coronavirus pandemic.)
2. Affiliate partnerships
Through their affiliate program, Bookshop allows any person to sell books and earn a commission. At the time of this writing, Bookshop’s commission for affiliates is 10%, versus Amazon’s 4.5% offer.
3. Promotion of local bookstores
Each receipt that Bookshop emails its customers includes information about local bookstores near them, as well as a listing of events for these stores.
Challenges for Bookshop.org
While everything that Bookshop plans to do sounds promising, it still needs to overcome a few challenges in its quest to compete with Amazon:
1. Streamlining systems
As an e-commerce site, Bookshop operates similarly to Amazon and other e-commerce sites: you browse through pages, find the items you want, and proceed to Checkout. Of course, with Bookshop still being on Beta stage, it may take a while to reach the seamless stage.
2. Gaining trust from local bookstores
Part of Bookshop’s thrust is forming partnerships with local bookstores: they promote Bookshop at their brick-and-mortar stores, and Bookshop gives them a percentage of its profits every 6 months. But independent bookshops still tend to be wary of e-commerce sites.
Hunter believes it may be easier to gain their trust once Bookshop starts sending them checks for their financial support.
3. Price differences
Another challenge is the lower prices offered by competitors, particularly Amazon. Bookshop does not want to offer prices much lower than those of independent bookstores—its website FAQ estimates its discounts to be 10% or lower while it experiments with customers’ responses to discounts.
4. Offering audiobooks and ebooks
Bookshop is still working on selling audiobooks and ebooks. According to the website, they intended to start selling ebooks and audiobooks vy partnering with other platforms starting March 2020. A quick search reveals some ebooks, mostly paired with a physical book for sale.
With Amazon offering ebooks—and free samples of ebooks—for majority of the print books they have for sale, this may pose a serious challenge for bloggers linking to Bookshop.
Is Bookshop Worth Supporting?
If you are a fan of independent bookstores and would like to support them through these challenging times with giant retailers, Bookshop is a great way to do so.
It may take a bit of time for them to work through the kinks, but knowing that you’re supporting local bookstores can make it all worth it.
How Can I Support Bookshop?
Here are some ways that you can support Bookshop.org and local, independent booksellers.
1. Become an affiliate.
Bookshop has a relatively easy and free affiliate signup. You just fill in your details, click on the confirmation e-mail, and you can start setting up your account. You can earn commissions by sharing a link to a product on Bookshop or by creating a Recommended Book List on Bookshop’s platform itself.
2. Recommend Bookshop to authors, publishers, and bookstores.
Authors, publishers, and bookstore owners alike can benefit from partnering with Bookshop. They can all earn commissions as affiliates, and local bookstores can take part in Bookshop’s financial partnerships. If you know any author, publisher, or bookstore owner, be sure to tell them about Bookshop.
3. Promote Bookshop to friends and your online community.
Because Bookshop is still relatively new, you can help promote it by talking about it with your friends, in your blog posts, or on social media. Get the word out on this small but interesting alternative to Amazon!
Bookshop: Advocate of Local Bookstores
Although we all appreciate the convenience that Amazon and other online booksellers have given us, we don’t want independent bookstores to die out.
We can help keep them on their feet by signing up for free at Bookshop.org.
Have you used Bookshop to buy books? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!
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