April 25 was supposed to be Independent Bookstore Day. But although it went the way of most events in 2020, there’s a surprising number of positive developments for booksellers to celebrate. Despite pandemics and Amazon, independent bookshops are finding a way to get the job done. Thanks to two new eCommerce sites, this “nonessential” category is actually seeing new life in the age of COVID-19.
Part of that life is in the rise of new partners competing with Amazon. The first is a startup called Bookshop, which launched in January of this year. Bookshop supports independents in two ways: 10 percent of its regular sales online sales are added to an earnings pool that is distributed to participating independent bookstores every six months, per its website. The company claims that $1 million has been doled out so far. Stores sell books online using Bookshop by sharing their designated link on social media, email newsletters or their websites. They earn 30 percent of the cover price on any sales they generate – that is the entire profit margin, which means all profits go to the store. Bookshop’s profits come from sales executed through its site without a bookstore redirect. All orders are fulfilled through Ingram Distribution.
Every receipt that is emailed to Bookshop’s customers contains advertisements for bookstores near them. If a customer opts in, their local bookstore gets that email address to use for direct marketing. Affiliate stores can create recommendation lists, such as staff picks, on Bookshop, gaining valuable publicity and earning a commission.
At launch, Bookshop said it had 250 stores. A few weeks later, it was selling about $5,000 worth of books each day. Then, COVID-19 hit. By April, there were 465 stores on Bookshop and the site had broken $150,000 in sales for a single day. Part of that spike was because Amazon had stopped shipping nonessential items for a time, and part of it was due to the bad publicity Amazon received from worker walkouts.
“If you're going to make an impulse purchase, you might as well support a plethora of businesses, instead of making Jeff Bezos even richer (the pandemic actually increased his fortune by $33 billion),” said Mashable. “Amazon owns nearly 40 percent of the eCommerce market right now. The coronavirus is going to wipe out many small businesses. When the dust settles, I don't want there to be only one or two companies left standing.”
“Our goal is to take the conscious consumers away from Amazon and put them in a channel that supports local independent businesses and keeps bookstores in their communities,” said Bookshop’s Founder and CEO Andy Hunter, which “are really essential to our cultural fabric when it comes to books.”
A similar eCommerce site has found new popularity, this one covering audiobooks for independent booksellers. Libro.fm was born in 2014 after its founders, Mark Pearson, Carl Hartung and Nick Johnson, met at a Seattle book shop to bemoan the lack of independent options. “We’re right in the shadow of Amazon, which is the owner of Audible, so it’s definitely a David and Goliath sort of thing,” says Albee Dalbotten, director of publicity.
Libro.fm has been a supporter of independent bookstores during the pandemic. On April 10, the company wrapped up a campaign called #ShopBookstoresNow, which gave bookstores 100 percent of sales. The campaign generated more than $73,632 for independent booksellers and caused an 800 percent increase in website traffic, along with a 200 percent boost in new memberships for Bookshop.