It is not unknown that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought an abundance of bad news to bookstores around the country. Several brick-and-mortar stores have suffered greatly due to closing their doors, preventing business. In April, sales were reported to have dropped sixty-five percent from the previous year. For Andy Hunter, however, this proved to be good news. Now publishing for Catapult and Lit Hub, Hunter conceived an idea that would provide local bookstores with some much-needed support.
Originally, representatives of the American Booksellers Association had approached Hunter to discuss possible improvements for IndieBound, a website that allowed bookworms to purchase from independent stores. Instead, Hunter suggested curating a completely new online shopping experience where in customers could specifically choose which store they’d like to buy from, or buy directly from the website itself. Thus, Bookshop was created.
Prior to the pandemic, Hunter’s connections within the book business were dubious as to how successfully such a website would perform. With his hopes high, he reassured investors that he could reach $30 million annually, which was only met with more skepticism. Following the shutdown of bookstores, Bookshop was able to sell $4.5 million worth of books during May, and more than $7 million at the beginning of June. It is estimated that Bookshop will now earn over $40 million in sales during 2020, exceeding the expectations of Hunter and his associates alike.
So, how is Bookshop run? Ingram, a popular book distribution company, fulfills the orders to ease the complications of store inventory. Bookstores do not have to have books in stock as Ingram will directly ship them to customers. Although the stores only receive thirty percent of the list price, they do not have to invest in inventory or shipping costs. Profit is maintained by direct sales and affiliate sales, including The New York Times and BuzzFeed.
Lisa Neuheisel, the owner of Sequel Bookshop in Kearny, Nebraska, states that Bookshop has been “a lifeline” for her. Danielle Mullen who owns Semicolon, a bookstore in Chicago, also agreed that Bookshop “meant we could stay in business.” Not all customers, however, share the same enthusiasm for the service, claiming that “if people have any idea that they want to help bookstores, they should order directly from bookstores.” Additionally, many worry that Bookshop will turn into a large competitor for them, in a similar manner to Amazon.
Despite the criticism, Hunter asserts that “if we ever felt we were damaging indie bookstore sales in any way, we would change course.” Instead, market share is taken from Amazon so that independent bookstores are able to reap more benefits, keeping themselves afloat amidst the uncertainty.