Bookshop.org: meet the man taking on Amazon

From The Spectator:

‘I believe books are a social good, and personally they’ve been essential to my understanding of the world, my connection to others, and my development and happiness as a human being’, says Andy Hunter, the founder of brand new book buying platform bookshop.org. ‘In all of my work, I seek to keep books a vital part of our culture.’

Strong words from the man seeking to take on Amazon. Could bookshop.org be the competitor we’ve all been waiting for? For years now, book lovers have been somewhat guiltily buying their titles online, well aware of the existential threat that Amazon’s market dominance poses to the traditional high street bookshop. Bookshop.org aims to offer an alternative – by enabling bookshops to share a collective purchasing platform and by giving them a thirty per cent share of the profit margin on each book sold.

Unusually for an internet entrepreneur, founder Andy Hunter believes strongly in the bricks and mortar of independent bookshops. ‘High street bookshops are run by the best people, people who have devoted their lives to books, and are places where children discover a love of reading, people gather and discuss stories and ideas, and communities stay connected to books and to each other. They are where literary culture takes root, and we need to preserve them.’

So what will his online tool offer? ‘I started Bookshop.org to help them compete with Amazon, which has been growing so quickly it threatens to make bookselling an unsustainable profession. Of course, then Covid-19 emerged as an even more urgent threat. Happily, both problems have the same solution: make it easy for their loyal customers to support them by buying books from them online.’

Amongst increasingly socially conscious consumers, he seems to be meeting a need; readers who care about books, their authors and the shops that sell them seem more than ready to jump ship for ethical reasons. Witness the sea change that has occurred on single-use plastic from many corporations as a result of customers who care about the environment. A responsible use of plastic is now a major selling point for products; indeed companies now use it as a marketing tool. Could bookshop.org do for books what David Attenborough’s documentary did for the environment? Can it prompt a root and branch change in consumer habits?

‘People love bookshops,’ says Hunter. ‘They want to emerge from this pandemic into a world where bookshops still exist. In-store sales are down around 40 per cent at the average store this year. They absolutely need support from online shoppers, and I’m very glad we launched in time to be able to help them.’

Link to the rest at The Spectator

PG’s reaction is that Mr. Hunter has a chance at success in advertising or public relations. He’s provided the author the Spectator article with lots of good quotes.

However, “Buy from us because Amazon is evil” doesn’t sound like very effective positioning for a new online venture. Lots of organizations are not Amazon. You can buy books from some of them if you really believe Bezos is the spawn of Satan.

But most people like Amazon. Particularly when retail establishments by the millions have been on Covid shutdowns, lots and lots of people have become very familiar with Amazon because Amazon is open for business and delivers almost anything right to their doorstep.

Some hearts will never be won by Amazon, but PG wouldn’t want to start a business that targeted Amazon-haters.

Many years ago in the United States, some people thought Walmart was evil because it drove the locally-owned grocer and hardware store out of business. (America doesn’t generally have “High Streets” but it does have lots of “Main Streets”.)

As it happens, many years ago, PG was living in a small town when Walmart opened up one of its typically large stores.

Walmart was enormously better then the local grocer not only in price, but in selection and the quality of its merchandise. It was cheaper than the local pharmacy as well.

As a matter of fact, Mrs. PG’s favorite local pharmacist became the chief pharmacist at the new Walmart and enjoyed both better working conditions and a significantly higher income while selling prescription drugs for much lower prices than he had previously been able to offer.

While PG doesn’t minimize the losses of those individuals who were unable to compete with Walmart (or are unable to compete with Amazon today), the quality of life for the large majority of the community was improved by having a local Walmart store.

Undoubtedly, some locals in Britain and the United States enjoy the retail shopping experience of going into a small local bookstore and prefer to spend some of their leisure time in that manner, but, while PG is a social guy when he’s not in Covid lock-down, he would rather read than walk around a typical small bookstore to see if they have any books of interest in stock.

Plus, for PG, reading ebooks is much more convenient and comfortable than reading printed books, particularly when the printed version of a book would run to 400-600 pages.

For example, PG is currently reading and enjoying the ebook version of Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea.

He just checked and Amazon says the paperback version of the book is 896 pages long and weighs 2.2 pounds. PG’s Kindle Fire weighs a few ounces and currently includes additional doorstop-length books PG plans to read.

6 thoughts on “Bookshop.org: meet the man taking on Amazon”

  1. All of the publicity and debate ignores ebooks entirely, as if by not mentioning them they will just go away.

    I have been sorting some boxes of paper books and ran across my copy of “Battle Cry of Freedom” by James M. McPherson, arguably the best single-volume history of the Civil War. Right on the spot I decided to reread it. After about 200 pages I checked my library for the ebook and borrowed it. The paper version is just too inconvenient. I love the book, but I am going to have to set it aside on the pile for the Little Free Library I am planning to build.

    BTW, Little Free libraries are great ways to divest yourself of paper books that you no longer want or need.

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