Booksellers welcome UK arrival of indie-focused Bookshop site

Booksellers welcome UK arrival of indie-focused Bookshop site

Booksellers have generally reacted enthusiastically to news that the US indie-focused retail site Bookshop.org is launching in the UK this November, although some remain cautious.

The website, founded by publisher Andy Hunter, aims to help indies compete against the online retail sector which is dominated by Amazon. It offers booksellers 30% commission earned on any sale that comes through the store’s links, book lists or shop page, and a 10% cut on all other sales through the platform.

Many shops The Bookseller spoke to last week said they were eager to start using the platform although others said they needed more detail or might sit it out for now.

Peter Brook, who runs BrOOK's in Pinner, north-west London, said he was excited about the prospect having followed the firm's growing market share in the US since it launched there in late January.

He said: “I'm actually really encouraged that they've had the confidence to launch in the UK because I think from an independent bookshop perspective the platform that they've created is not something that we could ever replicate on our own. But for me as soon as we got the notification about being able to sign up for it we signed up straight away.”

Brook added: “Customers are taking longer to reappear back on the high street but they're still very much engaged with books and they want to have the personal benefit that comes with shopping through independents. So if we can create an online platform that utilises Bookshop as the vehicle to deliver that, I think it can only be a positive thing. Actually it will probably give us an advantage against the likes of Amazon because having a high quality online presence along with the critical physical presence hopefully that will create even more loyalty.”

He said the firm had been using the Gardners' home delivery service and was also providing local delivery to its customers within a one-mile radius. This would continue, he said, but the addition of a presence on Bookshop would add another string to the store's bow.

“The more options you have of getting customers to engage with your business the better chance you've got of thriving,” he said.

Richard Drake, of Drake the Bookshop in Stockton-on-Tees in County Durham, was similarly pleased with the scheme and said the wider industry needed to “get behind it”.

He said:“As anyone in the book industry knows I have nothing good to say about Amazon and have regularly called out publishers and authors for their continued promotion via that channel. However, indies have not had one platform that we could offer as an alternative promotional point, and now we have. This is not the silver bullet, but now at least we have something in the chamber!

“I have been pleasantly surprised by the support our website has had online since the pandemic started and feel this is another way of letting people online know about our existence (our own and the indie sector). None of this can replace the fact that we think people should visit bookshops. It is an experience like no other, but there is a huge market out there that wants to buy online. Everyone knows Amazon and I don't think it needs promoting. Now the whole industry can give shoppers an alternative.

“What needs to happen next is we all need to get behind it and use it as a positive way of increasing our market share in terms of promotion and online sales. Lots of the public seem to be very jaded by the idea of another big corporation getting involved — especially online — and the industry needs to help remove that jadedness.”

Antonia Squire, of the The Bookshop in Bridport, Dorset, said she had also been watching the venture closely since its US launch but was slightly more cautious. She explained: “The corporate structure and governance seem designed to benefit not only independent bookshops, but the health of the industry as a whole. However, if Bookshop.org is targeting the ethical consumer without competing on price then service becomes of paramount importance. I will be signing up, but with the current stresses in the supply chain I'm nervous about fulfilment in the short term. Hopefully Gardners and the publishers will have adjusted to our new reality by November.” 

At Lindum Books in Lincoln, Sasha Drennan said she had registered her interest with the site already. She added: “We don’t have our own website and as we have very limited time and resources, I don’t really want to move into full e-commerce on our own.  This seems like the perfect solution – we can share links to the site on our social media, and if customers need or prefer to order online we can direct them to the site and still get some benefit.

“We are a Hive bookshop with Gardners and we also make use of their home delivery service, but this is another option for customers. I think this will particularly help publishers who would like to support independent bookshops but currently have nowhere to signpost customers to.”

Ross Bradshaw, of Nottingham's Five Leaves Bookshop, said: “About a month ago we put all our stock online, having built up quite an extensive mail order service during the lockdown period, so for the moment we will be promoting our own transactional website rather than Bookshop.org but, that apart, it looks good with some good professionals involved.”

Warwick Books co-owner Mog Giacomelli-Harris said the business was “seriously considering” joining, adding: “Our first thoughts are that this does at least look like a real contender to help publishing favour and promote indies over Amazon for their website promotion of online sales which would be a positive start. I also think it's a much more exciting offer than Hive.

“Our hearts did sink a little as we've spent a lot of time working on our own transactional website which we haven't quite launched yet due to a BATCH/Bertrams glitch which means we can't currently upload book covers for new stock and the dream is that that works well but we are well aware that the reality is that websites need a lot of attention to work well.”