As of December 4th 2020, Bookshop.org had raised over £455k for independent bookstores in the UK!
If you’re not familiar with this, here’s a very brief recap:
Amazon, with its cheaper book prices and the chance of getting a next day delivery, has had a massive negative impact on the bookselling industry. As customers move to the big retailer, small and independent bookstores have been forced to close their doors. Statistically, this seems to have been happening since before Amazon, but the US retailer has undoubtedly accelerated the process.
According to the Bookseller Association, 1000 indie bookstores in the UK have closed since 1995. Amazon’s hit on the book industry led to Waterstone’s purchase of Foyles (an English bookstore chain) in 2018 because, in the age of Amazon, bigger is better and safer. The retail war is clearly not lost, as the bookstore industry both in the UK and the US has united more than ever before to stand up to the trillion-dollar company.
Earlier this year, bookstore.org launched in the US, uniting small bookstores that, as bigger names have teamed up, had been left stranded and voiceless. Its wild success led to plans for the UK to get a version sometime in 2021 or 2022, but the impact of the covid-19 crisis led to the acceleration of the project and it officially launched on the 2nd of November 2020. This was especially important so independent bookstores could collect that extra revenue that usually comes in the holiday season.
So how does it work?
Essentially, small bookstores pay a small fee to set up a front on the website, and they get 30% of profits for every book they sell through the website. On the checkout page, the buyer can see exactly how much money will go to the bookstore they’re buying from. It feels refreshing to buy from somewhere that is very transparent about its profits and the destination of its income. The website’s launch has been especially crucial during the ongoing COVID crisis because small bookstores relied on sales through the phone or via email and had a limited outreach to their regular customers. Now, it is easier than ever to buy from them.
What makes Bookstore more special than a typical online store is the human curation and personalisation. Every bookstore has a unique page, and the browsing sections are set up to mirror the shelves of a real bookstore. As readers would ask booksellers for book recommendations, customers can look through the bookseller’s favourite books. In the case of Gay’s the Word, for example, customers can see through Jim’s, Erica’s, and Uli’s favourite picks. By comparison, book recommendations on Amazon are based on the algorithm, or because someone has paid so that their book is recommended to you. Bookshop comes as close it can to replicating the real-world experience of buying books.
Furthermore, customers can look up new stores on a map, making the discovery of new hidden gems in the city much easier than random Google searches and recommendations from blog lists.
As a conscious customer, it feels good to visit the website and see the bar that very publicly states how much money has been raised so far to support indie bookstores. It is a lifeline for booksellers, and you know your money is going directly towards paying for rent, groceries, school lessons, or anything else that’s not making Jeff Bezos’ pocket bigger.
The thing in particular that makes Bookstore stand out is its mission to benefit the public good by supporting the literary community, and its rules state that it cannot be sold to a major US retailer, including Amazon. They take a clear stand against the creation of conglomerates and support the integrity of small business in the age of retail giants.
It is certainly an exciting time for small bookstores in the UK and the US, and the creators of Bookshop are now shifting their attention to Spain and Portugal. We are slowly seeing a concentrated, international effort to kick Amazon out of the bookselling industry. Time will tell about the long-term effects of this, but it certainly seems like the fight against Amazon is getting more even. Indie bookstores are no longer isolated and voiceless. One can almost compare the website’s launch to the founding of a union for small booksellers.
So, if you’re looking for a place to do your Christmas book shopping, bookshop.org seems like the perfect place for it.