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LoveReading Bookshop Feature: Q&A with Nicole Vanderbilt, MD at Bookshop UK

Our bookshop of the month heads in a slightly different direction for December. Here we chat to Bookshop.org, a new online bookshop that launched in November and supports the independent bookselling sector. We love independent bookshops, which is why we take the time to highlight an individual shop each month. There really is nothing better than heading into the treasure trove that is a bookshop and immersing yourself in the comforting yet exciting world that awaits. While of course we recommend supporting your local, whether in person, or by ordering with them on phone and online, Bookshop.org offer an online alternative. If you take a look at our LoveReading book pages, you can see that as well as our specially curated content, you can also check our price comparison button, which Bookshop.org have now joined. Here we ask the team about their their launch, what their aim is, and what they offer in support of independent bookshops.

Tell us about Bookshop, how you started and how you work.

Bookshop.org was founded in Brooklyn by Andy Hunter who is a book publisher himself and co-founder of LitHub and Electric Literature. As a reader and as a publisher, Andy knows all too well the vital role that independent bookshops play in the industry, our lives and our culture. Before founding Bookshop.org, he was watching the incredible growth of Amazon’s market share at the expense of the independents and wanted to do something about it. 

Bookshop.org provides a place for consumers to buy books online easily while also supporting independent bookshops. When a reader designates a bookshop on our platform, the bookshop receives 30% of the cover price as commission on the reader’s purchases. If a consumer doesn’t designate a specific bookshop, then 10% commission goes into a shared profit pool for all the participating indies. 

Those orders are then fulfilled through our wholesale partner, Gardners, and the book is delivered direct to the consumer’s home from their warehouse. Bookshop.org provides customer service. In other words, you are supporting indie bookshops with your purchase, but they don’t do any of the operational work. We are hoping we can do the boring stuff (building the web site, fulfilling the orders) that allows them to focus on their shops and the things that make them so special.

What type of customer do you think you’ll get?

We are mostly seeing people who used to buy on Amazon saying to us: thank you for providing me an alternative that makes it easy to support the high street while shopping online. We are reaching people who enjoy the convenience of online shopping, but who are looking for ways to support their communities and the small businesses they admire.

What do book lovers need to know about Bookshop prices?  

We offer a 7% discount on most titles. We recognise that consumers expect a discount online, and we want to provide something to help offset the delivery costs (which the consumer pays on our site). We are not the cheapest place to buy a book, but we think we offer good value.

What has been the feedback from independent bookshops so far?

While we only launched in November, we’ve already had very positive feedback from a number of the independent bookshops using the platform. We’ve heard stories of their Bookshop.org commission paying their rent, allowing them to offer bonuses  to their staff, giving them the confidence to renew a lease. We are hearing that bookshops are finding new customers through us -- both online and coming into their shops. And, we are hearing that it is much easier and less time consuming to manage than they’d expected. 

Not all independent bookshops will want to join the platform, and we completely respect that. Our mission is to support independent bookshops full stop -- whether on our platform or not. So you’ll see our message to the public is: first and foremost, please go visit an independent bookshop. If you can’t do that, please ring them, email them, DM them on social media. And, if neither of those works, Bookshop.org is another way to support independent bookshops. We also invite any independent bookshop to sign up to the profit pool, whether they have a profile on our site or not. Above all our mission is to support the independent bookselling sector.

How have authors responded to the idea?

Authors have been really positive. Many want to support independent bookshops and do so incredibly well already. Bookshop.org provides them a scalable way to support more independent bookshops with one link. We’ve had great support from Margaret Atwood, Stephen Fry, Richard Osman, Jack Monroe, and even the elusive Elena Ferrante with her exclusive list of favourite 40 books by female authors.

Have you had any particular challenges to overcome (thinking of lockdown!)?

Well, it’s an interesting time to try to build a team. There are only 9 of us in the UK. I’ve met three of those folks face to face twice. The rest of this incredible journey, all this hard work, and getting to know each other has all happened on video calls! This sounds like a nightmare, and we would prefer to be able to sit together more often, but it’s worked surprisingly well. I think this is because we so strongly share a common purpose.

Which books are available on the site?

Currently, we are supplied by Gardners which offers a very wide range of titles. However, we do think there is an opportunity to expand our sources of supply in future.

You’ve had a really successful launch, what has your feedback from customers been so far?

Customers have been really happy with the service. I think 2020 has made consumers realise that where they spend their money matters. They enjoy an online alternative that allows them to also support their high street. Like our customers, we want a future with a human, bustling high street to enjoy when we can, and when we can’t and we spend our money online, we still want to spend money in a way that keeps that money in our local communities.

In the first week you were open, what genre of books were your best sellers?

We saw and continue to see a mix of some of the best sellers you’d expect but also some strong sales for more backlist titles -- e.g., Scotland: Her Story: The Nation’s History by the Women Who Lived It sold well that first week after being featured on a list curated by Aberfeldy Watermill Bookshop on our homepage. 

What is the main thing that you would like book lovers to know about Bookshop?

Our mission is to support independent bookshops. Please go to them directly when you can -- into their shops, online, by phone, on social media. And, when you can’t, Bookshop.org is a good alternative. When you use bookshop.org, please choose a bookshop from the map to get started and ensure your favourite gets 30% of the cover price on your purchases.

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