With most of the UK workforce locked down or furloughed many have turned to books. Their reasons included escapism, furthering their knowledge, self-help, to wile away the hours or simply to get around to reading what had previously been recommended. With bookshops closed and browsing later discouraged, online ordering of books became the norm.
The goliath of bookselling is Amazon. An A to Z of almost all books in all conditions with free, fast delivery – who could say no? Yet the American company has been known for tax avoidance in the UK and some see the corporation as a necessary evil, especially when it came to getting hold of books during the coronavirus lockdowns. Bookshop.org planned to take on the bookselling market leader before bricks and mortar shops began temporarily closing their doors.
Bookshop launched in the US in early 2020 and fast-tracked operations in the UK with 150 independent booksellers signed up ready for the 2 November launch date. Its mission is ‘to financially support local, independent bookshops’ who sign up to its free services.
As a bookseller, you create a free ‘storefront’, where you introduce yourself, your business and link to your social media channels. The storefront is in lieu of an expensive, time-consuming website of your own. You can also create reading lists, recommending books based on topics or emotions. Sales directly from your storefront generate 100% profit and other sales are added to an earnings pool which is shared equally to booksellers biannually.
Customers navigate the website by either selecting a particular seller or browsing through topics, selected reading lists are displayed on the homepage which also steers the customer towards storefronts. When going through the secure checkout, the customer is shown how much of the value of their order is going to independents – it gives you the warm, fuzzy feeling of supporting small businesses.
Publishers have also joined with Bookshop as a way to promote their authors through a storefront. Bookshop also promotes events such as book signings, launches, festivals and books clubs. Affiliates are also encouraged especially from a grassroots level – readers with an online presence, book clubs, authors – anyone who advocates books.
Bookshop’s online store is a model like no other that I have been able to find, their transparency and obvious love of books is evident as is their empathy for local independent booksellers who, through signing up to Bookshop, may be able to ride out the double threat of Amazon and the pandemic.