Alex Call, W H Smith’s former head of books marketing, is launching an online bookshop with an emphasis on diversity.
Call’s website Bert’s Books goes live today (Tuesday 19th March) and boasts “the personal touch of a bricks and mortar bookshop, but with the convenience of online shopping.”
After 16 years at W H Smith, Call left in February and said he decided to go online with his venture after set-up costs for a physical shop proved too high with the shop name coming from his family nickname Bert.
“The idea first came when I considered opening my own physical bookshop - I wanted to help people find the books that they wouldn’t normally be able to in the chain bookshops,” said Call. “The set-up costs proved too high - with 90% coming from rents! - so I looked into other options. That’s when I realised that online bookshops offer huge ranges of titles, with their algorithms often recommending the same titles.
“Readers who don’t have the time to explore bookshops, or are intimidated by them, are often presented with the same sort of titles over and over again, be it online or in supermarkets. I wanted to find a way to highlight the best books that they may not have previously encountered.”
Selling individual titles and book subscriptions, Call will launch with six handpicked ‘two-book bundles’ with Bert’s Best Books showcasing Call’s favourite books of the month and ‘Proud to be Different’ showcasing diversity and starting with BAME and LGBTQI+ titles.
The 'Proud to be Different' bundle will be lead by Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams - and the first 25 customers to subscribe will receive a signed copy.
Call added: “The idea to focus on the ‘Proud to be Different’ bundle was borne out of my own frustration as a gay man at not finding books featuring characters like myself in mainstream fiction. I know it’s also an issue for people from other minorities as well - but this bundle isn’t necessarily just for those from minorities. Again, they’re just good books that my customers may not have been previously encountered.
“I think all publishers and retailers have a responsibility to help readers find new voices and new points of view - there’s already a concerted effort from publishers, but as long as the chain retailers just concentrate on the Top 20, these voices will struggle to break through.”
Based in Swindon, the site bertsbooks.co.uk will ship all over the UK and can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as @BertsBooks.