Bookshop, a new startup, is offering publications bigger kickbacks than Amazon

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From Nieman Lab:

The pitch is simple. “They get to feel good about themselves. They get to diversify the revenue. And they don’t have to take a financial hit because we’re able to deliver the sales that they want.”

. . . .

The Rebel Alliance to Amazon’s Empire. A David taking on Goliath. Any way you want to put it, the new ecommerce site Bookshop has attracted a lot of attention for challenging Amazon on its original turf. (What, did you forget Amazon launched as “Earth’s biggest bookstore”?)

Bookshop, which was founded to support independent bookstores, distributes earnings through a pooled fund and provides digital storefronts that let local stores keep the profits on any sales they generate. Launched in late January, Bookshop has served as a lifeline for indie booksellers during a pandemic that has forced many of them to shut up shop. Here in Massachusetts, for example, local favorites like Harvard Book Store, Brookline Booksmith, and Porter Square Books — not considered “essential businesses” — have closed and suspended curbside pickup. This could change after May 18, but until then, online orders are keeping them afloat.

There’s something in it for publications that cover books, too.

If a publication refers a sale to Bookshop, the site will kick back 10 percent of the book’s price. That’s more than twice the going rate — 4.5 percent for physical books — through Amazon’s affiliate program.

. . . .

News organizations have seen ecommerce as an attractive way to diversify their revenue streams for a while now. The concept is straightforward (even if the ethical questions aren’t): An outlet publishes an affiliate link — in a review or gift guide, maybe — and earns a small percentage of any sales.

Back in 2016, The New York Times paid more than $30 million for the product review site Wirecutter, a major investment that now seems like a bargain. (The Times doesn’t break out affiliate revenue in its financial reports, but we noted a 20.9 percent increase in “other revenue” back in 2017 that was largely credited to referral revenue. That category has grown in the years since, though the latest earnings report credited revenue from The Weekly and Facebook licensing.) Wirecutter often points readers toward Amazon, which runs the largest, best-known affiliate revenue program. But, as the book publishing industry learned early on, it’s not smart to be overly dependent on the whims of a tech giant. Just last month, Amazon cut commission rates across several categories, which can’t have been welcome news for digital publications like BuzzFeed and New York magazine that regularly publish shopping guides to drive affiliate revenue. The company is also delaying shipping on some items — including books.

By providing an alternative, Bookshop offers an opportunity for publications that rely on ecommerce to diversify at least part of their payouts.

For all the galaxy-sized metaphors in the press, Bookshop isn’t trying to beat Amazon at its own game — just loosen its vice-like grip on bookselling. (More than 90 percent of ebook and audiobooks sales and about 42 to 45 percent of print book sales happen on Amazon, according to industry tracker BookStat.) Part of the solution, concluded Bookshop CEO Andy Hunter, was developing an affiliate program that worked for publishers but supported many independent stores instead of one trillion-dollar company.

Link to the rest at Nieman Lab

9 thoughts on “Bookshop, a new startup, is offering publications bigger kickbacks than Amazon”

  1. Recently purchased “The end of October” and sent to my MIL, who in return says it is one of the better books that she has ever read. Just sayin’.


    Amazon: $18.30, Prime shipping, they already know MIL’s address. It did take 6 days.
    B&N: $24.55 – 19.56 + 4.99 shipping. Tax might be involved, I didn’t go that far.
    Bookshop: $28.66 – 25.16 + 3.50 standard shipping (6-11 days)

    Kindle: $14.99

    • There’s always that price/service thing that raises its head when you set out to compete with Amazon.

      When you’re trying to run an online business selling products, Amazon’s prices are always just a couple of clicks away.

      I sometimes wonder if the simplest (and most remunerative) thing a B&M bookstore could do would be to set up a tip jar next to the cash register and divvy up the money among the employees at the end of the day.

  2. Fine, as long as they don’t whine to the government requiring handcuffs be put on Amazon.

    If they can compete, good.

    And they should think ahead: Amazon will watch them carefully, and may learn from them.

  3. So, Bookshop lists books from non-chain B&M stores from all over for less than Amazon merchant services. And what do they offer consumers?
    Higher prices? And…?

    They do realize that two thirds of American households are subscribed to Prime, right? Or use a relative’s account?
    112M subscriptions in the US alone as of Dec 2019.

    And B&N online is still a thing.

    I’m thinking there is a finite (and small) number of Anyone But Amazon shoppers that will forgo B&N to make a statement.

    The problem with trying to build an online book business out of being “Not-Amazon” is there already exists an established “Non-Amazon” bookstore for print and several for ebooks.

    Not impressed.

    • what do they offer consumers?


      “I like my local bookstore, even though I don’t actually go there to buy books, so I will do this and feel good about myself.”

      Bookstore just passes it’s orders on to Ingram, which does all the fulfillment. Your ‘selected bookstore’ is not actively involved other than to choose a few pages of recommended titles. Bookstore uses the higher-than-Amazon price to pay a higher fee to affiliates and a donation to that bookstore, or just throws it in a pot if you don’t select one. The Tip Jar is baked in. They are some sort of not-quite-a-nonprofit, so they keep some of the money for their own expenses.

      It is paper book only. A bookstore that is local to me is set up with, which allows you to buy ebooks and read them in an app (MyMustReads). This is a Hummingbird Digital Media thing. I believe there is the same sort of Tip Jar associated with them as well. It is very difficult to find a list of bookstores that have signed up with them. I tried a free one, the white label ereader app is nothing to write home about. It is Just Another Ebook Source.


    • Test. Let’s see if I can comment.

      Okay, cool. I commented on this Bookshop thing a while back, before I had trouble posting. So — as a reader, my reaction to encountering Bookshop on another website was “Does this site not internet? Where is the link to Amazon?” That’s especially if they were offering an ebook version, because I’m locked into KDP. Don’t offer KDP? Then “bye, Felicia.”

      I skip book recommendations that don’t include Amazon links, especially if a review is highlighting a particular version or edition of a book that has myriad editions. But more to the point, I’m in the Amazon ecosystem already. I am not going to pay for extra shipping, and it’s “extra” of a store to expect me to if I can just get it via Prime.

      So, indie booksellers, be smart: become an affiliate seller on Amazon, and figure out what you need to do to offer Prime shipping. I don’t know what problem Bookshop is solving. I’m not convinced it’s doing anything but offering a sop to people who have an intense love of their local store, or an intense hatred of Amazon. Either of those demographics seem like too small of a customer base to be chasing after, though.

  4. These articles always remind me of aging hippies with shiny heads and long gray ponytails who just will not give up.

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