If Gutenberg were alive today, he would be a very busy angel investor.
With the boom in book sales during the Covid-19 lockdown last year, the polite written word has suddenly gained popularity from VCs and founders. We’ve seen a whole fleet of new products and funding, including algorithmic recommendation engines BingeBooks, book club startups like Literati and the aptly named BookClub, as well as streaming service Litnerd. There are exits and potential exits for Gloss, Litcharts and Epic.
But one company that has captured the imagination of many readers is Bookshop.org, which has become a go-to platform for independent local bookstores to create an online storefront and compete with Amazon’s Juggernaut. The company made its debut in January 2020 as the Covid-19 epidemic spread, quickly capturing the headlines and profiles of Andy Hunter, a hardworking publisher with a deep love for the reading ecosystem.
After a year, how is it all catching up? The good news for the company is that despite customers returning retail, including bookstores, the bookshop has not seen a downturn. Hunter said August sales this year are up 10% compared to July, and the company is on track to sell as much as 2020 in 2021. Years up. “That means our sales are additive,” he said.
Bookshop now hosts 1,100 stores on its platform, and has more than 30,000 affiliates who revise the book’s recommendations. Those lists have become central to the bookshop’s offerings. “You get all these recommendation lists not only from bookstores, but also from literary magazines, literary associations, book lovers and libraries,” Hunter said.
Bookshop, a publicly owned corporation, makes money by moving inventory like all ecommerce businesses. But what makes it different is that it is fairly generous in paying money to affiliates and bookstores affiliated with its platform vendor program. Affiliates are paid 10% for the sale, while the bookstores themselves charge 30% of the cover price of the sales generated by the platform. In addition, 10% of the affiliate and direct sales at the bookshop are placed in a profit-sharing pool which is then shared with the member book stores. According to its website, the bookstore has distributed 15.8 million to bookstores since its launch.
The company has made a lot of progress in its first two years of business, but what happens next? For Hunter, the key is to create a product that continues to connect both customers and bookstores as easily as possible. “Keep Okem’s razor,” he says of his product vision. For each feature, “it will enhance the experience and not confuse the customer.”
It’s easier said than done. “For me, the challenge now is to create a very attractive platform for customers, book sellers who do everything they want us to do, and create the best online book buying and selling experience,” Hunter said. In practice it often means that the product feels “humane” (such as buying in a bookstore) while helping book sellers maximize their profits online.
Hunter, for example, said the company is working hard with bookstores to optimize their recommendation list for search engine search. SEO is not exactly the skill you learn in the traditional retail industry, but it is crucial to stay competitive online. “We now have stores that rank first in Google for book recommendations from their book lists,” he said. “When two years ago, all those links would have been Amazon links.” He noted that the company is also layering in its best efforts to optimize email marketing, customer communication and conversion rates on its platform.
For consumers, the big push to move the bookshop is to avoid the popular algorithmic recommendation model among Silicon Valley’s top companies, which replaces the more human-curated experience. With thousands of affiliates, “it feels like a beehive of organizations and retailers building diverse ecosystems around books,” Hunter said. “They all have their own personalities [and we want to] Let that personality show. “
There’s a lot to do, but that doesn’t mean black clouds aren’t scary on the horizon.
Amazon, of course, is the biggest challenge for the company. Hunter notes that the company’s Kindle devices are extremely popular, and that it gives the ecommerce giant a stronger lock-in that it can’t achieve with physical sales. “Because of the DRM and publisher agreements, it’s really difficult to sell e-books and allow anyone to read on Kindle,” he said, comparing the connection with Microsoft to Internet Explorer on Windows. “The court case is going to happen.” It’s true that people love their Kindles, but “if you love Amazon … you have to admit it’s not healthy.”
I asked if he was concerned about the number of startups getting funding in place of books, and whether that funding could potentially crowd into the bookshop. “Book club startups – they will succeed by putting books – and talking about books – in front of the largest audience,” Hunter believes. “So it will make everyone successful.” He is concerned despite focusing on “disruption” and says “I hope they succeed in a way that leads to independent bookstores and partnerships with existing community members.”
After all, Hunter’s strategic concern is not directed at competitors or the question of whether the book is dead (it isn’t), but a more specific challenge: that today’s publishing ecosystem ensures that only a handful of top books succeed. Often referred to as the “middle list”
The problem is, “Hunters are worried about the growing blockbuster nature of books these days.” [while] Young writers or great innovative works of diverse voices do not get the attention they deserve, ”he said. Bookshop hopes that the human curation through its catalogs can help maintain a more vibrant book ecosystem than recommendation algorithms, pushing readers consistently towards the biggest winners.
As the bookshop operates in its third year, Hunter just wants to focus on humans and bring a rich store browsing experience to the online world. After all, it’s about purposefulness. “I really want people to understand that with all the small decisions we make about where we shop and how we shop we are building the future we live in and we need to be very conscious of how we think about it intentionally. . ” “I want the bookshop to be not only a place of your civic duty but also a fun place to shop.”