Many of you have heard about Bookshop (https://bookshop.org), our new bookselling platform with a mission to financially support independent bookstores like yours. I wanted to let you know more about who we are, our plans, and our goals.
I am a book publisher, of Catapult, Counterpoint, and Soft Skull press. I am also a web publisher, of Literary Hub, CrimeReads, and Book Marks, and before that, I founded Electric Literature. I am thoroughly invested in the culture around books, and I understand how important bookstores are to that culture.
It has been wonderful to see how resilient bookstores have been over the past decade. But I worry about the future when I see Amazon growing from 37.7% of Bookscan’s reported sales in 2015 to over 50% in 2019, and e-commerce’s share of the US retail market growing 14% year-over-year. I believe indies need a piece of online sales to safeguard their future. Some have adapted: approximately 150 stores have websites that reach five figures in annual revenue; about 25 stores reach six figures--but the majority of stores do not.
Like all of us who have made books the center of our lives, I have a deep and abiding love for bookstores, which I have known since childhood as places to find meaning. If we don’t nurture and protect them, people won’t simply find other places to get books, they’ll read fewer books. Without your stores, books will become a smaller part of our culture, and that would be bad for individuals, society, and the future, which is already so fraught.
I hope that Bookshop can help strengthen the fragile ecosystem and margins around bookselling by providing an alternative to Amazon for socially-conscious online book buyers.
Our goal is to build a sustainable platform that helps solve three problems:
Beginning in early 2020, IndieBound.org’s direct sales function will be replaced with Bookshop. IndieBound is not going away; it will remain a place to locate independent bookstores, discover the IndieNext list, and host other ABA resources. But all “buy” links to individual books on IndieBound.org will be redirected to Bookshop.org.
Ingram’s direct-to-consumer business will handle our orders, inventory, picking, packing, shipping, and returns. Ingram is excited to support our effort and eager to help.
How will Bookshop support your store?
After paying the publisher, distributor, discounts, and processing fees, Bookshop’s net revenue will be about 30% of a book’s list price. For a media-partner like Literary Hub, the affiliate sale will be split as follows: a third goes to the affiliate, a third to the bookstore pool, and a third to Bookshop.
Bookstores get a better deal than media affiliates. We believe any bookstore-driven sale should benefit that store in particular, rather than going into a general pool. So bookstores get the 10% affiliate fee, plus the 10% that would normally go towards the pool, plus an additional 5% (because supporting stores is our mission). When we give 25% of the sale to a store, Bookshop makes less than 5%, just enough to keep the platform going.
Customers on Bookshop will be able to search for their favorite store and buy from them. Stores who provide recommendation lists (the staff picks, reading lists, shelf talkers, etc, which can appear on Bookshop’s homepage, category pages or product pages) will also get 25% of those sales (if there are multiple recommendations for the same books, they will be given equal exposure). So when a Bookshop customer adds a book to their cart based on your recommendation, you’ll get the affiliate commission. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to create lists for us.
When we promote Bookshop, we are going to be careful to target customers who are not already shopping at indies online. We’ll do this by convincing influencers and publications to link to Bookshop rather than Amazon. We want to convert socially-conscious Amazon customers, not yours. We hope we can also lead some customers into their local indie’s sales channel:
Bookshop is not a replacement for your IndieCommerce or IndieLite site. We recommend that stores contact the ABA’s IndieCommerce team to build full-featured websites that can sell merchandise, handle event orders, do in-store pickup and more.
Our affiliate profiles pages are simple, with a photo, short bio, recommended book lists, and search. We expect thousands of curated pages from bookstores, authors, chefs recommending favorite cookbooks, travelers, celebrity bookclubs, mainstream media, blogs, Instagrammers, and many more. We want to create a buzzing hive of book lovers, and a rich collection of recommendations from all the people who make up the community around books. That will be a true alternative to Amazon--a site that puts humans and human recommendations first.
Bookshop will be a B-Corp, which is a corporation that puts our mission and the public good above financial interests. It is written in Bookshop’s bylaws that we will never sell the company to Amazon or any major US retailer. Our investors are individuals who appreciate the necessary function that bookstores serve in our society and culture. There’s no venture capital in Bookshop; we are in it for the long haul. Bookshop has three independent booksellers on our seven-member board, and an advisory board to ensure full transparency and community participation in our decision-making. (If you’d like to be on the advisory board, email us at email@example.com.)
When Bookshop launches, it will have bugs and rough edges; all new platforms do. But we will keep working to make it a little better every week, with actual customers giving us feedback. We will work to deliver a good experience, be a good partner to bookstores, and try to make the right decisions. We will eventually add features like bookseller and/or customer book reviews, used books (with indie partners through Biblio), and much more. That phase, the continuous small improvements phase, will never really end. To be a robust alternative to Amazon, with something special to offer our book lovers, we will have to continuously evolve.
It’s important to us that everyone in the bookselling community understand that we’re building this for your benefit. We are always going to be listening to booksellers and growing the platform in the way that benefits you the most. Digital projects need to experiment and evolve to succeed, so you can expect us to change and improve a lot in our first year, and you can help by offering feedback and guidance.
If you want to be a bookshop affiliate, have questions, or would like to receive more information about Bookshop, please email Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for reading. We look forward to working with you.
Andy Hunter CEO, Bookshop.org