March 2, 2021
Bookshop.org raises £1 million for UK indie booksellers
by Alyea Canada
It looks like Bookshop.org is continuing its meteoric rise across the pond. Allison Flood reports in the Guardian that the e-commerce site has raised one million pounds for independent booksellers since it launched in the UK a mere four months ago. The second lockdown, which forced many indie booksellers to close right at the time of Bookshop.org’s launch, is certainly a factor in its success, but the ecommerce site’s popularity also indicates readers’ desires for an alternative to Amazon.
In case you need a refresher, Bookshop.org uses a profit sharing model to benefit booksellers in two ways. Booksellers can create a storefront on Bookshop.org and they will receive 30% of the cover price of each sale, or if a sale is not attributed to a specific bookseller 10% of the cover price goes into a pot that is spread across all booksellers on the platform; Bookshop.org handles all of the shipping and customer service. More than 200 thousand UK customers have used the service since its launch with 410 booksellers signed up. According to Flood, “The platform said that £633,000 of the total profit has been distributed to bookshops in customer-designated commissions, while the remaining £367,000 is shared equally among all participating bookshops.”
Of course, as it was in the U.S., this success is not without concern from independent booksellers who worry customers will stop shopping in person. The best way to support your local indie is to buy directly from them, but for many booksellers who were forced to close shop with little notice Bookshop.org was a lifeline. A lot of indies didn’t have the resources to set up and maintain an online store and so the commission from Bookshop.org allowed them to avoid furloughing employees and to maintain something of a work life balance (whatever that means in lockdown). Flood quotes Nigel Jones, who opened East Gate Bookshop a mere twelve days before the second lockdown:
“Bookshop.org arrived in the nick of time for us. I honestly don’t think we could have managed financially and emotionally without it. I’ve got three children under 12. My wife is a midwife. I’m running this shop, and I’ve got a part-time job as well – spending all my evenings packing up things for an online shop would kill us. So Bookshop.org does that, and gives us a pretty good kickback of 30%.”
The aim of Bookshop.org is to assist indie booksellers to survive and thrive in a world where people are increasingly buying books online by capturing customers used to the convenience of Amazon. As Nicole Vanderbilt, UK managing director says, “There is simply nothing like the experience of shopping at an independent bookshop.” So be sure to return to your local indie when things are safer because they certainly will have missed you.
Alyea Canada is an editor at Melville House.