Bookshop.org – the ‘rebel alliance’ independent online bookstore aggregator set up to fight the dominance of Amazon – has generated more than £1m for UK independent bookstores since November.
The platform, which allows book sellers to create their own store front and push out their stock, has helped many independent bookstores to rapidly create an online store during lockdown and now they are reaping the rewards.
Set up a year ago in the US and launched in the UK in November, Bookshop.org now boasts more than 200,000 customers and generated sales of more than £5m and profit of £1m for the 410 independent bookshops signed up to it.
The platform takes 70% of the sale price of the books, however it handles all the shipping and returns, as well as all customer service – often a hidden and debilitating cost of doing business online.
10% of all other sales on the site goes to support all participating independent bookshops, split between them every six months. Partners can take out their income whenever they like, providing they have a balance of £20 or more. The site offers a 30-day returns policy, but click and collect is not supported.
As a result, Bookshop.org has distributed £633,000 of the total £1m profit to bookshops in customer-designated commissions, while the remaining £367,000 is shared equally among all participating bookshops.
The Booksellers Association’s managing director Meryl Halls told The Guardian that is was “a remarkable moment for indie bookselling and in the fight against Amazon’s dominance in the book market over the last 10 months”.
The platform was launched as England went into a second national lockdown in November, and Halls said it had been a lifeline for shops who were “forced to close and otherwise struggling to provide an e-commerce offer to their loyal customers”.
While some criticised the move as setting up another competitor for beleaguered physical bookstores, Bookshop.org says it is the only way to help these stores compete with Amazon, allowing them to play in the ecommerce market without the investment and outlay needed to run it.
Paul Jones-King, of Darlington-based independent bookshop Chapter One Loftus, told The Darlington & Stockton Times: “Bookshop.org has given us another vehicle to show case the books we have in store. We were forced to close our doors two days after opening in November and whilst customer have continued to support us via our own website we chose to sign up to bookshop.org to give customers alternative options to support us during the third lockdown."
Nicole Vanderbilt, UK managing director at Bookshop.org – formerly international vice-president of Etsy – comments: “Bookshop.org’s mission is to support the independent bookselling sector in the UK, and it is deeply gratifying to have reached this significant milestone in such a short time, and to hear the individual stories of success from bookshops using the site to sell books. Book buyers have made it clear that they believe in online shopping that gives back to local communities.”
In the US, Bookshop.org is reported to be on track to pass $40m in sales this year, having only set up in January as the “indie alternative to Amazon”.
“It’s been a wild ride,” founder Andy Hunter told The Guardian at the time of the UK launch just before Chirstmas. “Five weeks into what we thought was going to be a six-month period of refining and improving and making small changes, Covid-19 hit and then suddenly we were doing massive business.”