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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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Photos: Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times
Comfortable easy chairs tempt customers at Lake Forest Park’s Third Place Books near Seattle. Some independent bookstores aim to be an extension of your living room.

The demise of the bookstore keeps being predicted, but independent shops flourish here and there. The survivors are the ones that provide more than a book.

Moira Macdonald reports for the Seattle Times, “If you walk through the entrance of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park — right past the signs by the door that say EAT SLEEP READ — on a random weekday afternoon, you might find something nobody could have predicted a decade ago: a neighborhood bookstore, busy and thriving. …

“Ten years ago, when the recession hit and Amazon’s deep discounts seemed to sound a death knell for independent bookstores, such a picture might have seemed like the most fantastical of fiction. Beloved Seattle bookstores were closing their doors throughout the aughts, and those who remained open seemed to face an impossibly uphill task — who would pay full price for a book when you could buy it for less online? But there’s more to an indie bookstore than the price on a book’s cover. …

“Founded in 1998 by visionary developer Ron Sher, Third Place Books got its name from sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s theory of the necessity of a third place; one that isn’t home or work but somewhere we can connect with a community. …

“While far from the oldest bookstore in Seattle, Third Place is the only one that in recent years has expanded to three locations, opening in the Ravenna neighborhood in 2002 and Seward Park in 2016. All offer a mix of new and used books, … a comfortable place for coffee or a meal, friendly booksellers eager to recommend a new favorite, a busy schedule of author readings and special events — in other words, offering not just books, but an experience. …

“In their three very different locations — a suburban shopping center north of Seattle; a quiet residential neighborhood near the University of Washington; a south Seattle neighborhood with one of the country’s most diverse ZIP codes — Third Place is offering ways to find community.

“Each store offers at least one book club; Seward Park, leading the pack, has five: Reading Through It: A Post-Election Book Club; Booze & Lasers (for science fiction/fantasy); Social Justice Syllabus; a teen book club; and a new Black Literature club, starting in January. Lake Forest Park’s three book groups include a general literary club, a nonfiction club and a Knitting Book Club (no, they don’t read books about knitting, but knit while they meet, discussing a variety of books).

“The Ravenna store takes advantage of its proximity to UW to present the monthly Black Jaw Literary Series, which features students and faculty members from the university’s creative-writing program. And it’s taken a creative approach to the author appearances that are the bread-and-butter of the bookstore business: Literary Luncheons. …

“Sometimes, creating community in a bookstore doesn’t involve books at all. Calendar events for the three stores include language conversation clubs, mahjong gatherings, live music (often at Third Place Commons, an open community space adjacent to but operated separately from the Lake Forest Park store) and Magic Mondays, a popular monthly demonstration by local magicians at Ravenna. …

“And the stores give back to the communities they serve, regularly supporting local schools. … Other charitable programs [include] single-day fundraisers — instigated by employees, and quickly organized. … The most recent [raised] money for legal services for refugees detained at the U.S.-Mexico border; business that day was up 75 percent.”

More.

A mother and son peruse a picture book at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Washington. As traditional bookstores close, Third Place books has actually been expanding to new locations.

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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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