Close this search box. raises more than £1.7m for UK bookshops since launch, a year ago today

Word on the Water trades from London's Regents Canal. Image courtesy of Word on the Water/ has raised more than £1.7m for 480 UK independent bookshops on its platform since it launched in this country a year ago today. 

The bookselling platform was first set up in the US in January 2020 by editor and publisher Andy Hunter, in order to help support independent bookshops through Covid-19 lockdowns. In the US it now works with more than 1,000 bookshops and has generated sales of more than $16m. 

The company opened in the UK on November 2 2020 – the first day of the second national lockdown – working initially with130 shops. Now that number has risen more than threefold, with bookshops making more than £1.6m while also raising their profile both online and within their local community. Independent bookshops get 30% of the cover price when they generate a sale on the platform, other affiliates get 10%, and 10% from sales not linked to an affiliate go into a pot for distribution. The organisation, which stocks 4m titles via UK distribution partner Gardners, aims to provide an alternative to Amazon, and readers can buy books at a small discount and for delivery within two to three days – for free when shoppers spend more than £40. The organisation achieved carbon neutral certification earlier this year. 

Paddy Screech, manager at Word on the Water, a floating bookshop on London’s Regents Canal, says: “We are a tiny shop – about a tenth the size of an average bookshop – situated on a century-old Dutch barge moored in the heart of London. When lockdown hit, we were extremely nervous. 

“It was around this time that we first heard about – we were extremely suspicious. It seemed to be offering to take all of the sweat and worry out of online bookselling for us and offering to pay us dividends and take over all of the customer liaison, mailing and delivery in exchange for a very modest percentage of each sale. We kept flinching from the blow of discovering what the catch was… but it never came. Slowly we migrated all of our online sales to Bookshop, just in time for us to get back to what we loved most, face-to-face bookselling surrounded by moorhens and grumpy swans in Regents Canal. Our barge desperately needs to be craned out of the water – its hundred year old hull urgently needs some loving care – and our online sales now all go into a fund to make this possible. So it is literally correct to say – after a long and sometimes heart-breaking year – that is helping every day to keep Word on the Water, London’s only Bookbarge, afloat.”

Keira Andrews, owner of Reading Roots in Wetherby, York, started using before her shop opened, since it was delayed by the November lockdown. “Regardless, I signed up to as an affiliate so that we could use our bookshop links on social media to reach customers as we got closer to opening day,” says Andrews. “This meant that we were already making sales before the shop had even opened! It was a wonderful support, and actually ended up covering several start-up costs. I now use this money strictly to make bookmarks, loyalty cards, gift vouchers, and pay for the odd advertisement in local papers. I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to attract even more customers through in 2022.”

Nicole Vanderbilt, managing director of UK, says: We are delighted by and incredibly grateful for the response we’ve had from readers, bookshops, affiliates and the wider publishing industry. However, this is really only the beginning of what we believe we can do together to reshape the industry so that the indie bookshops get a greater share of the increasingly online book market. 

“We want to live in a world in which indie bookshops thrive – the bookshops that are community stalwarts, the owners who pour their heart and soul into making their high streets a better place, the booksellers who actually read and respond to books before confidently putting them into the hands of a reader. 

“We encourage readers to visit these bookshops as much as they possibly can, but when they can’t, our role is to provide an easy, convenient, ethical way to buy books online while supporting these incredible bookshops. Our message to readers: stop sending your money to space and start sending it to the independent bookshops we all love. There really is a better way to buy books online.” hosts regular virtual events in support of independent bookshops, including, recently, an event with Kazuo Ishiguro with 1,000 attendees. Upcoming events are with Ann Patchett and Yotam Ottolenghi. The site features book recommendations from authors including Elena Ferrante, Marian Keyes and Claudia Winkelman.

Ian Cawley, manager of Rother Books in Battle, Sussex, says: “[Rother Books] doesn’t have a website and a transactional one wouldn’t be an option as it is just me working in the shop so being able to link to on all the social media platforms has been brilliant. As Battle is a tourist town, I’ve been able to direct visitors who enjoyed the shop to carry on supporting it from afar using the platform. The commission I receive allows me to grow the range of books I have on offer both in the shop and online.”

And Jess Paul, manager of Max Minerva’s Marvellous Books in Bristol, says: “We opened Max Minerva’s in 2018, and in this time have seen high street retail undergo some huge changes. Brexit uncertainty, stock uncertainty, Covid closures and online selling were just some of the challenges we all faced. In April 2020, we weren’t sure how we were going to get through the year and pay our bills. couldn’t have arrived at a better time – with the commission from them, we have been able to pay all our bills, as well as offer our hard-working staff bonuses and raising wages.” produces a monthly Indie Champions list of the books that make most money for bookshops. Now it has put together a list of the top 50 books that have contributed the most money since launch. It is led by Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart, followed by The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, and the Midnight Library by Matt Haig. 

Douglas Stuart, author of Shuggie Bain, says: “I am thrilled to see Shuggie Bain top the Indie Champions chart for 2021. Over the last year, has done so much to support indie bookshops, and it is these local bookshops who keep people reading in our communities and jobs on our high streets. I am glad to be able to support them in any way I can.”

Jamie Byng, chief executive and publisher at Canongate Books, says: “The last year has been a tumultuous one, to say the least.  But one wholly positive aspect of it has been the arrival of, a wondrous initiative that has celebrated and rewarded the hugely important independent bookselling scene. 

“By supporting this vital part of the book ecosystem, has provided a unique means for independent booksellers to flourish in our increasingly online world whilst reminding readers of the value of bookshops, the health of which is essential to the future of distinctive writing and diverse reading.” 

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