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A boy buying a book at a bookshop

Bookshop.org: Look Out Amazon, There’s a Newer (Ethical) Book Seller in Town

A boy buying a book at a bookshop

Have you heard of Bookshop.org? I hadn’t until recently. But I’m glad I did. Bookshop aims to be an ethical alternative to Amazon, and so far, the company is knocking it out of the park.

In case you live under a rock and haven’t heard of the litany of ethical problems at Amazon, there’s plenty of anger out there aimed at the company. From labor issues to putting local businesses out of house and home–there’s a social cost to the mega-success of industry disruptors.

In steps Bookshop.org

The company is the newest creation from Andy Hunter. He’s the founder of the very popular book-focused site lithub.com, which gets several million hits every month. People go to Lithub for a variety of reasons–but they’re all related to the craft of writing.

And would an entire community dedicated to the art of the pen have book reviews? You bet your butt they do.

Thousands of them. It’s one of the main draws to the website.

Bookshop begins

Andy had a bit of a dilemma after his website grew in popularity. With growing viewers and content, a lot of bills start adding up to pay for servers and staff. Andy is also pro-indie and definitely pro-local-bookshops. Or one might say, anti-Amazon.

So it can be easy to see why he didn’t want to use Amazon’s affiliate program to earn from all of the popular book reviews on his site. But that leaves a lot of money on the table.

For those unfamiliar with the term, an affiliate program is when a viewer clicks on a link on a website and ends up purchasing a product from where that link takes you (like Amazon.com). Here’s a good article that sums up what the whole idea is.

In this case, those thousands of book reviews could each have a link to buy a book in the article. If any reader did that, Literary Hub could’ve received up to 4.5% of the price of the book. Thousands of reviews times 4.5% of a $10 book, for example, could easily add up to more than $100,000 and beyond.

That’s a lot of coin to leave lying on the table.

But with his conflicting ethics and a knack for entrepreneurship, Andy decided to create Bookshop.org.

Bookshop is a company that aims to bring the profits back to local booksellers and away from Amazon.

How does it work?

It’s pretty admirable, actually.

  1. 10% of all sales through Bookshop are collected into a revenue pool and distributed to the independent bookstore partners
  2. Affiliate bookstores will earn 30% of any sales directly, which is just a bit lower than their usual profit margins of 35-50%. Bookshop.org is explicit in saying they don’t earn anything off of these kinds of sales.
  3. Individuals that use affiliate links in the blogs and social media posts will earn a nice 10% of any sales. Compare this to Amazon’s current 4.5% and it’s easy to make the switch.

Another neat factor is if you specifically want to support a local bookstore (and if its a partner) then you can use their map function to choose the store you want to buy from.

Here’s the link to check out that feature: https://bookshop.org/pages/store_locator

Other efforts to support local stores include automatically putting a footnote promoting local stores based on your delivery location. If a customer of Bookshop is keen and opt-in, their email will go to the local seller for direct marketing in the future.

They’re also developing their website to include book recommendations and lists. By allowing the stores themselves to post these, they gain another form of advertising and potential sales.

As they don’t have access to Amazon’s efficient delivery supply chain, they had to find another partner. Luckily, Ingram stepped up to the plate. They’re America’s largest wholesaler and are able to deliver within 2-3 days.

How is it doing?

According to their website, so far they’ve sent out just under $1.3 million in profit to independent sellers. Not bad for a relatively new business!

Even more interesting is their recent success. With the recent stay-at-home measures enacted around the world, it looks like people are returning to the passion of reading.

Mr. Hunter said they’ve now hit a big threshold of $1,000,000 in revenue a week. A goal which he thought would’ve taken two more years to hit.

So, if you’re interested in finding some new great books to read, go check out Bookshop.org. If you’re an independent bookseller or a blogger interested in affiliates, here’s the site to sign up as one.

Happy reading!


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