Most people nowadays in the United States are buying books online, specifically through Amazon. Though Amazon is convenient, it does not usually help out the small bookstore businesses that could use the help of a large corporation to gain more publicity within their community and across the United States.
Enter Bookshop.org. The website is just as convenient and as easy to maneuver as Amazon but gives back to local, independent bookstores with each of their sales. Bookshop.org gives back approximately sixty-five to seventy percent to booksellers, with ten percent going into a pool for all bookstores, and stores can receive a thirty percent profit if buyers access their store directly on Bookshop. Sarah High, the partnerships manager at Bookshop.org, says that the forty-two percent sales profit that standalone bookstores make per sale is not far off when using Bookshop.
‘It’s 30% instead of 42%, and with that 30% [book sellers] don’t have to do any packing, shipping, inventory, any customer service, any returns – we handle all that on our end.”
Bookshop.org works with Ingram, the top book publisher in the United States, to purchase books. Though pricing is higher than Amazon’s average cost, this is because book sales are Bookshop’s only source of revenue; this is compared to Amazon’s multiple sources of profit to collect from.
‘[Amazon is] able to offer books at such a competitively low price that they are undermining the publisher, the author, the local, independent book store and the local, independent book seller,’ High states. ‘So it is really unsustainable, and I would argue completely cannibalizing [the] way to buy a book.’
To become an affiliate with Bookshop, there are two requirements. The bookstore itself needs to have a physical shop and possess an American Booksellers Association membership. Though a membership with Bookshop may cost over a few hundred dollars per year, Bookshop helps cover those expenses, with bookstores gaining over $1,000 in just sales by simply being an affiliate.
Bookshop.org is an amazing way to help support small, local, and independent bookstores and make people who either don’t live near any local bookstores, are not going out as much because of the pandemic, and help find books that may not be at their own bookstores. Additionally, Bookshop.org regularly runs discounts on popular books. High makes it known though that Bookshop.org does not want to replace the indie bookstore experience, only support them and keep them on their feet within their own communities nationwide.
What’s more perfect then finding a book or books you want to read and starting them before you even leave the store? To sit at a cafe with a book is the ideal environment for us book lovers out there.
For this week’s bookspot we are going all the way down under to Australia. We spoke to Jane Turner of Gertrude and Alice Cafe, located on 46 Hall Street, Bondi Beach NSW 2026 Australia.
How did your bookstore transition from concept to reality?
In 2000, Katerina Cosgrove (co-founder) and I decided we wanted to open a cafe bookstore. It took 12 months of planning. We spent every waking hour when we weren’t working scouting possible shop locations and stockpiling 45,000 second hand books to open with. We trawled local markets, charity shops, auctions and garage sales. We lived with 100’s of boxes of books, beautiful but odd sets of china tea cups and mismatched tables & chairs that were stacked to the ceilings in our homes until we finally found our shop in Hall Street, and we opened in 2001. We are fast approaching our 20 year milestone.
What do you feel is unique to your bookstore?
It truly is one of a kind. People say that our shop is like their lounge room at home but without the clothes thrown everywhere! Most other shops that have added a cafe to their business model run them as a separate entity. Our cafe bookstore is run by us. As we have been around for 20 years, many of our customers have been with us since the very beginning. We have seen babies go through school, finish their schooling and work part time for us while they complete their studies. Ella, who works for us full time now used to visit in a pram with her Mum Jo who is one of our biggest readers.
I love the sense of community that we have created. It would have to be the one thing that I’m most proud of.
If you had infinite space, what might you add to the store?
It’s a very long list that keeps getting longer! We actually have a DA (development application) to put in a staircase and extend into the unit above us. We would love to have a bigger space to hold events, book clubs, expand our children’s section and host reading afternoons for little ones. We would love a specialist antiquarian room with big leather reading chairs and my greatest wish is to have a writer-in-residence space under the big window where we could invite people to not only be inspired to write, but be available for a short time each day to chat to other aspiring writers. It could also be an artist in residence space as well. There never seems to be enough money to get it off the ground – but I’m not giving up on my dream just yet. I believe that one day it will happen.
How do you feel your bookstore fits into your local community?
We have always called ourselves “a community cafe”. Part of our logo says “for the people” and so we live and breathe this mantra. We would be nothing without the support of our community each and every day and our entire team is aware of this. We get involved in local projects whenever we can, support schools and work on fundraisers with other local businesses . I honestly believe that we wouldn’t have been as fortunate as we have been to be in business for 20 years had we not become part of the community. My family grew up here at Bondi so it means everything to us.
What does your store offer that a chain or online retailer can’t?
Totally personalised and individualised service. We know your coffee, we know your name, we know what books you like to read. We know when you need a hug or a shoulder to cry on. We know when you need 5 m minutes to sit and recharge in our cosy chairs and get ready to go out and face the world again. We hold newborn babies so you can finish your breakfast.
We have seen people that had never read a book in their life become voracious readers. As a family-owned business we are service driven and therefore our care factor is huge. We have been on the other end of the line when dealing with a chain or online businesses and believe that what we offer is everything that they don’t.
Our customer Michelle wrote this to me recently “It means so much to have some place to go where the staff know your name, your order, a book you might like to read, to have a communal table where people come together and make a community out of strangers. It’s food for the soul. I don’t care if I can save $5 buying it online -what you do here is priceless.” How amazing is that to have someone write something like that about what you created! A community out of strangers…wow!
Do you hand-pick your staff to create a specific environment?
We do. You have to be an all-rounder as working in a small team means you become multi-skilled. You have to be able to get in and do what needs to be done. Even though we work in hospitality, we don’t really have a high turnover of staff. We become like family even though it has aspects of a highly dysfunctional family at times! It helps if you read a lot.
What about your store do you think appeals to your neighborhood?
It has a sense of belonging. Of place and of connection. It’s warm and cosy and welcoming. We try our best to ensure that we provide a service that keeps you coming back again and again.
Amid the current coronavirus pandemic, many people have chosen to self-quarantine and practice social distancing in efforts to stop the spread. This leaves many with newfound free time on their hands and the challenge of finding ways to entertain themselves while quarantining at home. In this quest, many have turned to reading to fill their spare time and rather than go to a bookstore to acquire these books, they can be found entirely online.
Audio-bookstore, Libro.fm, and online bookstore, Bookshop.org have both seen sales skyrocket, as a result of the recent coronavirus pandemic. Both online stores collaborate with independent booksellers and return a share of sales back to them. This is in an effort to keep independent bookstores alive, especially during this time of social distancing. CEO and co-founder of Libro.fm, Mark Pearson, notes that “it has been a record breaking month for sales and new memberships.” Compared to the previous month, Pearson notes that sales for the thirty day period, which ended on March 15, were up about 150%.
image via grinnell college
Libro.fm, which is based in Seattle, had already noticed the hit to independent bookstores in their community. In a radical move, the company altered their business model “so that affiliate bookstores get all the revenue from new membership sales until the end of the month.” Pearson notes the importance of independent booksellers stating, “if independent bookstores go under, we don’t exist.” This important measure reminds people of the value of their own community.
Similarly, Bookshop.org has seen a sudden increase in the amount of bookstores signing up as affiliates. Founder Andy Hunter says, “A lot of stores opened accounts recently as an emergency measure in case they need to close up shop.” Until then, they are able to fulfill the web orders from their own shops. Bookshop.org has also seen a giant increase in sales as the coronavirus pandemic has escalated. Over the last four days, the online shop has seen a 400% increase in sales as social distancing and self-quarantining have become a widespread practice.
image via venngage
While companies like Libro.fm and Bookshop.org have solved a number of societal problems during this ambiguous and secluded time, that doesn’t mean they don’t feel pressure to meet customer demands. Developers feel the pressure to make site improvements faster, and without error. For now, Hunter says that, so long as our servers stay up – we’ve checked them, and they are good – we’ll be here for bookstores.”
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