Mystery donor pledges £250k to booksellers via trade crowdfunder

Mystery donor pledges £250k to booksellers via trade crowdfunder

A trade crowdfunder to help booksellers struggling during the Covid-19 crisis has helped raise around £380,000 after a mystery donor pledged an “astonishing” £250,000.

The fundraising effort, launched by Gayle Lazda from the London Review Bookshop, Picador commissioning editor Kishani Widyaratna and Daunt Books publisher Zeljka Marosevic last month, originally had a target of £10,000 but the number quickly swelled well beyond that. By the time the online page closed, just under £68,000 had been raised with Penguin Random House agreeing to match the first £50,000 before pledging a further £10,000.

Money raised is going to affected booksellers via hardship grants administered by the Book Trade Charity — the Booksellers Association has also given £30,000.

David Hicks, c.e.o, of the charity, said an anonymous donor had now come forward to pledge £250,000, bringing the organisation's total fund to just under £380,000.

He said: “The donor just wants to say they are committed to independent bookshops as part of a mixed bookselling economy and they want to show some support and we were their chosen vehicle through which to do that on the basis of the crowdfunder.

"I'm sure the actual crowdfunder that was set up has raised our profile considerably and I think that was instrumental in the donor coming to us. But there isn't anybody else doing what we're doing for bookshops and bookshop staff so it's a natural place to come.”

Hicks said 15 grants had been awarded to individuals so far, ranging from £700 to £4,000, but he expected more to follow, with the first three applications submitted from bookshops on behalf of all their staff coming through recently.

He said: “It's slower to start than I imagined but it's always difficult for people to come to a charity and say they need financial help. We try and make it clear that it's entirely non-judgmental, we're here to help. It's confidential so nobody else is going to know and people shouldn't be reluctant to come forward.

“Given the way things are likely to get worse over the next couple of months, we expect certainly some of the independents to come to us and say: 'We've got a bit of a shortfall, can you help'.”

The charity has stripped down its application form and can pay the grants a few days after they have been approved. It is now encouraging more people to come forward by emailing info@btbs.org.

Hicks added that the crowdfunder had been “pretty much the biggest” his charity had received for a non-capital appeal. He said: “It's been absolutely magnificent. I was so pleased they set it up in the first place. They [the three initiators] came to us and asked if it would be all right to use our name and obviously it was extremely all right. It's definitely given us opportunities that wouldn't otherwise have been available to us, so it's tremendous.”

Hicks added: “We're in a healthy position, a strong position, we've got a long track record, we're building on what we always do and we've been incredibly well supported by the trade, because the trade sees the need. I think we're very, very grateful to be where we are.”

Lazda, Widyaratna and Marosevic said: “When we started this campaign less than a month ago, our initial funding goal was £10,000 so we are absolutely delighted to have helped raise nearly £380,000 for booksellers and those working in bookshops affected by this crisis. It's been heartening to see the industry rally around booksellers, with recent contributions from Influx Press, Hachette and Pan Macmillan joining Penguin UK, as well as generous donations from the BA, authors, agencies and individuals across the industry. The most recent £250,000 donation from an anonymous donor is truly astonishing.

“We’re proud to support the brilliant work of the Book Trade Charity, who are working hard to deliver these grants to those who need them most."

Meryl Halls, m.d. of the Booksellers Association, said her organisation was "very proud" to have collaborated on the project and was urging her members to apply if they needed to.

She said: “Bookselling has never been a high-paying career, and now many booksellers are facing very real hardship as a result of this crisis – either furloughed, or facing an uncertain future, they need help to survive the challenges currently facing them. 

"This is why this Bookseller Hardship Fund is so very important, and we would urge our members to consider applying for a grant.  All grants are targeted at personal hardship (rather than business costs and outgoings) and are entirely confidential and administered by the Book Trade Charity.  We hope that this funding helps to keep booksellers afloat through these lean weeks, and ready to embrace life after the crisis has passed and bookselling is back on our high streets.”

Donations can still be made to the charity here.