Online Bookstore for Indies Reaches a New Milestone

Bookshop.org, the online store whose mission is “to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community”, passed a major milestone today: they’ve raised $200,0oo for indies across the U.S. according to their website.

Launched in Beta in January 2020, they had raised $70,000 by Thursday, March 19 – but saw exponential growth in the second half of this month.

For customers, Bookshop.org is a straightforward storefront: search for a book, add it to your cart, and it appears at your home as soon as two or three days later, fulfilled by Ingram, the wholesaler which supplies most indies.

It’s also a place to discover new books – the home page features lists such as Current Indie Bestsellers, Women’s History Month Favorites, Surviving a Pandemic, or Popular Activity Books for Kids at Home. Lists also pop up elsewhere, for example at the bottom of each individual book page.

For bookstores, it’s a potential way to earn extra cash: every six months, the profit generated are split between participating bookstores. Shops can also become affiliates, which means they get 25% commission on all sales generated by links they post in their newsletters or on their social media, for example.

Bookshop.org’s reach is only likely to increase, with Simon and Schuster announcing this morning that they are adding buy buttons to the books on their website.

It’s possible that momentum would have grown even without current events, as word of the new service spread through word of mouth and media coverage calling Bookshop.org David to Amazon’s Goliath. But it’s no coincidence that it’s snowballing now – and not just because people are stockpiling books for their time of social isolation.

With the increasingly tight regulations in many American cities and the grief for our former way of life, many readers are keener than ever to support the local bookshops they love and make sure they are still there when all of this ends.

Amazon, by contrast, may be doing very well out of this pandemic, with people using them for both panic buying and basic necessities, as well as  grocery delivery. And now the online behemoth is deprioritzing books. Amazon has had the upper hand, for many reasons including its name recognition, the convenience of its website, the quick turnaround times, and, importantly, the low prices. But turnaround on Amazon orders has slowed, right when many readers are desperate for books – and in that context, price may matter less than convenience, especially as people are spending less on recreational activities that would usually involve leaving their home.

At the same time, it can be hard to keep track of exactly which bookshops in your town is doing what, as they struggle to adapt to changing circumstances and local laws, often working with skeleton staff, variable opening hours, and variations on curbside pickup, delivery, and shipping.  If you’re already struggling to work remotely while homeschooling your kids and keeping everyone in your household fed and relatively content, it’s a lot easier to head to one central website knowing you’re doing good for indies generally.

“I think as long as we don’t reach a certain level of success we’re going to fly under [Amazon’s] radar,” founder Andy Hunter told Forbes back in the long-distant times of February this year. But it looks like Bookshop.org’s days of being under the radar might be rapidly coming to an end.

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