This extract from today’s Protocol newsletter hinted at something which has been on my mind in the last few weeks. Could new consumer behaviours which might once have seemed implausible quickly take hold during the current crisis? We could ask the same question about non-commercial social media which I’ve always thought was brilliant in principle but difficult to scale in practice:
It may feel like the pandemic has only served to concentrate power in the hands of companies like Amazon, but some people see the current chaos as an opportunity. Andy Hunter, CEO of Bookshop.org, certainly does.
“To change [someone’s] routine is the easiest way to change their habit,” he told me. Coronavirus changed everyone’s routine — so habits may start to shift, too.
- The habit that Hunter wants to change? People buying books from Amazon.
Bookshop launched in January as a way for indie bookstores to easily create their own digital storefronts, and put them all together to build the kind of efficient, convenient book-buying experience that could compete with Bezos.
- Bookshop is a B-corp, set up more to help the industry than generate a profit. It gives bookstores more than their normal share of proceeds, and also set up an affiliate program it hopes can lure even more people away from Amazon.
- Right now, Bookshop sells about $1 million worth of books every week from 600 stores on the platform. As of Monday its affiliate program had raised another $1 million-plus for independent bookstores. “If you look at our financial plan,” Hunter said, “we’re right now at where we said we’d be in 2023.”
- The thing Hunter said indie bookstores like best about Bookshop? “We put in our documents of incorporation that we were never going to sell to Amazon, or Barnes & Noble, or any of the top retailers in the U.S. They didn’t have to worry about putting a lot of energy into us just to have us flip the company.”
Bookshop’s early success has stoked its ambition. It’s now selling audiobooks and ebooks, talking to partners about comics and magazines, and more. “I want to really change the equation for how viable bookselling is in this country, outside of Amazon,” Hunter said.