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Over the past years, bookstores owners across the world have suffered from the rise of Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer. Now, just like almost every business sector, bookstores are facing another round of devastation with Covid-19 keeping customers at home and stores shuttered for weeks on end. But nascent online shop Bookshop has just thrown in a lifeline to support independent bookstores, especially when Amazon’s reputation has taken a tumble its problematic and unethical treatment of its own employees during the crisis.
Many brick-and-mortar bookstores have been driven out of business by the growth of Amazon, which now corners over 50% of the market share in physical book sales. With travel restrictions, social distancing and home quarantines becoming a ‘new normal’ in recent weeks, even more consumers have been turning to Amazon’s services for almost all their daily necessities.
But at the same time, Amazon has faced a backlash amidst the pandemic. While more are relying on its services than ever before, the company’s long-standing reputation for unsafe, unsanitary and even dangerous working conditions has been thrust into the limelight. Most recently, Amazon workers made headlines striking over the company’s lack of protection for its employees. In an interview, one employee said that she had only received a single wet wipe to clean her work station.
As the claims about Amazon’s mistreatment of its workers continues to shroud the company’s reputation, a newcomer has arrived to save bookstores that have long suffered from Amazon’s monopoly. Called Bookshop, the startup aims to redirect readers away from Amazon into its own online platform, where customers can purchase books directly on the site or through storefronts operated by individual bookshops.
While some larger bookstore chains may operate their own online platforms, Bookshop caters to small, local businesses that may not have the resources to maintain a robust e-commerce system. “There are almost 2,000 bookstores in the country, and only about 150 of them have good online shopping platforms,” explains founder and CEO of Bookshop Andy Hunter in an InsideHook interview.
Many media sites currently still link to Amazon. In return, Amazon pays a commission for every book sale – this creates a cycle of millions of readers being directed towards Amazon, which excludes independent booksellers and is a huge reason why the group has been able to take up such a large share of the book retail market.
Emerging as the Amazon alternative, Bookshop handles the entire fulfilment and delivery process through the wholesaler Ingram, while giving its independent sellers a fair cut of each sale – 30%. On top of that, Bookshop allows stores to opt into a “split earnings” program where 10% of profits can be equally shared between different member stores to give them an extra source of revenue.
It was founded shortly before the pandemic hit, and one reviewer of the site described it as the “Rebel Alliance” against Amazon and other e-commerce giants’ empires. As more consumers are on the hunt for Amazon alternatives, and as stores struggle to stay afloat whilst seeking help during the pandemic, Bookshop’s popularity has surged.
“Our traffic and orders are about 20 times what we had planned at this point. It’s a lot of work, and there are 300 urgent unread emails in everybody’s inboxes, but we are helping people at a time when people desperately need help,” said Hunter.
Twitter users now slamming sites that promote books via Amazon, which has led to a number of media companies such as Slate and Vox to “come on board” to Bookshop, which redirects sales commission to support independent booksellers.
In February, Bookshop managed to raise around US$2,000 for booksellers. Now in April, they’re on the highway to surpass US$846,000. If there’s any good news to be had during a pandemic, it’s this – it looks like Bookshop’s plan to be the antidote to Amazon might just work. Not to mention this could make all sectors rethink how they approach the online selling world. Could Bookshop have found an ethical way to support independent retailers?
Read more of Green Queen’s Covid-19 coverage here.
Lead image courtesy of Pexels.