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Photo: Idris Talib Solomon
‘It’s been a wild ride,’ says Andy Hunter, the founder of Bookshop.org.

Like many of you, I avoid using Amazon as much as possible because it is just too big, puts too many others out of business, and mistreats employees.

It wasn’t always like that. I was a customer who thought Amazon was wonderful, was impressed that I could find anything there, loved getting purchases delivered fast. Now I try to find alternatives.

I was happy to read about a new site for independent bookstores because I had found that ordering from my favorite local shop took forever in the pandemic’s early days. This might be more efficient.

Alison Flood writes at the Guardian, “It is being described as a ‘revolutionary moment in the history of bookselling’: a socially conscious alternative to Amazon that allows readers to buy books online while supporting their local independent bookseller. And after a hugely successful launch in the US, it is open in the UK from today.

Bookshop was dreamed up by the writer and co-founder of Literary Hub, Andy Hunter. It allows independent bookshops to create their own virtual shopfront on the site, with the stores receiving the full profit margin – 30% of the cover price – from each sale. All customer service and shipping are handled by Bookshop and its distributor partners, with titles offered at a small discount and delivered within two to three days.

“ ‘It’s been a wild ride,’ said Hunter, who launched the site in the US in January. ‘Five weeks into what we thought was going to be a six-month period of refining and improving and making small changes, Covid-19 hit and then suddenly we were doing massive business.’

“Initially starting with 250 bookshops, more than 900 stores have now signed up in the US. … By June, Bookshop sold $1m worth of books in a day. The platform has now raised more than [$7.5m] for independent bookshops across the US.

“ ‘We were four employees plus me, working at home, getting up as early as we could and going to bed as late as we could, trying to make it all work. It was a real white-knuckle ride,’ said Hunter. ‘But it was extremely gratifying because the whole time we were getting messages from stores saying, “Thank God you came along, you’ve paid our rent, you’ve paid our health insurance this year.” ‘ …

“Bookshop is a B Corporation, created with the mission ‘to benefit the public good by contributing to the welfare of the independent literary community.’ Rules state that it can never be sold to a major US retailer, including Amazon.

“Hunter believes the reason for Bookshop’s quick success is readers’ fondness for their local booksellers. ‘Bookstores have been in trouble for a while because of Amazon’s growth, but this pandemic has really accelerated it. Amazon has gotten much more powerful, while there are 100-year-old stores that are hanging on for survival,’ he said. …

“Hunter had been planning to launch Bookshop in the UK in 2021 or 2022. But after seeing the success of the platform in the US, shops, publishers and authors in the UK asked him to step up the timeline. … The UK arm of the company will be run by managing director Nicole Vanderbilt, the former international vice-president of Etsy. …

“Bookshops make no financial investment, with all customer service and shipping handled by Bookshop, and, in the UK, by distributor Gardners. … Each independent that joins has its own ‘storefront’ page, where customers can browse virtual tables of recommended books.

“For example, a user can see what the owner of The Shetland Times Bookshop (‘Britain’s most northerly general bookshop, situated over 60 degrees north and closer to Norway than to London’) personally recommends, in lists such as ‘wonderfully funny picture books I’ve read to the bookshop staff,’ and ‘books to help you take life in your stride.’ …

“ ‘It’s hard for us to compete with someone that’s got its own warehouse and sells books sometimes at a loss, or at very small profit margins. We just can’t do that. So it’s nice that Bookshop.org is going to rival Amazon in a way we couldn’t on our own or even collectively,’ said Georgia Eckert, of Imagined Things bookshop in Harrogate. ‘You’ve got to have the reach, a site that’s big enough, run by a proper team of people dedicated to it. We’re all running our own businesses and haven’t got time to be doing that.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Ian Burrell has a funny story at the Independent about the Times of London deciding to create the old-tyme newsroom ambiance by piping in the sound of typewriters clacking. Goodness knows if the young people can concentrate, but it must make the guys with the green shades feel they’re in the right place.

“Almost as if the digital revolution never happened,” writes Burrell, “the newsroom of The Times once again resounds to the clatter of the old-fashioned typewriter.

“Nearly three decades after Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper publisher revolutionised the industry by moving to Wapping and ending the ‘hot metal’ era, his flagship title has reintroduced the distinctive sound of old Fleet Street.

“To the surprise of Times journalists, a tall speaker on a stand has been erected in the newsroom to pump out typewriter sounds, to increase energy levels and help reporters to hit deadlines. The audio begins with the gentle patter of a single typewriter and slowly builds to a crescendo, with the keys of ranks of machines hammering down as the paper’s print edition is due to go to press.

“The development, which was described as a ‘trial’ [in August] by publisher News UK, has caused some bemusement among journalists, one of whom tried unsuccessfully to turn the sound off. …

“The Times’s initiative coincides with a revival of interest in the typewriter, a trend which the newspaper reflected on Page 3 today, with a report on how the actor Tom Hanks has developed the Hanx Writer app, which simulates the sound of an old-fashioned typewriter and has gone to the top of the iTunes app store in the US. Hanks, it noted, can tell the difference between the sounds of an Olivetti, a Remington and a Royal typewriter model. …

“Michael Williams, who began his newspaper career at The Times’s old offices in London’s Gray’s Inn Road in 1973, and is now a senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, saw merit in the idea.

“ ‘People feel to some extent disengaged from the thrill of producing a newspaper, which is galvanising,’ he said, referring to the relative quiet of modern newsrooms.”

More here.

Photo found at Gizmodo 

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The independent bookstore where I live is assuming the whole town knows that the publisher Hachette is fighting with Amazon. I say that because it has devoted a whole window to Hachette books, with a statement about carrying any book you want but no statement about the Amazon fight.

Amazon may finally have gone too far. People are fighting back against its absolute power. Asakiyume, for example, is practically a one-woman campaign to get its warehouse staff better working conditions.

And there are other initiatives. Jennifer Rankin writes at the Guardian, “Independent booksellers are being sent reinforcements in the battle against Amazon …

“My Independent Bookshop, a social network for book lovers from Penguin Random House, [is] an online space where anyone can review their favourite books and show off their good taste on virtual shelves.

“Crucially, readers can also buy books from the site, with a small proportion of takings going to support scores of local independent book stores. …

“A reader’s nominated home store – which doesn’t have to be geographically close – will get 5% of the revenues from every physical book they buy and 8% on an ebook. The site is a tie-up with the e-commerce website Hive, which has been offering a similar service to local shops since 2011.”

Read more at the Guardian, here. Check out the lively comments there, too.

Photo: Sarah Lee for the Guardian
The new Penguin Random House may give independent booksellers a boost in online sales. 

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