In 1998 there were more than 12,000 bookstores in the US, a high watermark for the industry. A decade later, ecommerce was growing and only half remained. Many of the casualties were independent bookstores that couldn’t keep up with the inventory and shipping demands that customers were beginning to expect.
Today, Bookshop.org is leveling the playing field by combining the personal touch of a local shop with the scale and convenience of a modern ecommerce platform.
“A lot of what you hear about Silicon Valley culture is about disrupting an industry. What if we use the same tools some might use to disrupt an industry to actually reinforce it?” said Andy Hunter, founder and CEO of Bookshop.org.
Customers select a local bookstore and browse titles curated by its staff, and orders are processed through wholesalers, so stores don’t need to manage extensive inventory to offer a wide selection and convenient shipping. Bookshop.org is a certified B Corp and gives 80% of its profits to independent bookstores, generating more than $21 million in revenue for the more than 1,500 booksellers on its platform.
“There are bookstores a hundred years old that wouldn't have made it through the pandemic without Bookshop.org,” said Hunter.
New revenue streams
Bookshop.org also supports bookstores beyond direct sales. Customers can designate a local bookstore so that any purchase they make, anywhere on the site, will direct money back to that store.
The website now has more than 50,000 affiliates—including The Atlantic, Buzzfeed, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and New York Magazine—that link to it through book reviews or other coverage. When books are sold directly by Bookshop.org, or through affiliates, 10% of the list price goes into a profit pool that is distributed to bookstores—generating $8 million to date.
Bookshop.org uses Stripe payments to facilitate credit and debit card purchases and Stripe Connect to direct payouts to individual stores. It recently increased mobile checkout conversion rates by 36% with a few tweaks to its Stripe payments setup, resulting in $1.7 million in additional revenue for bookstores and their communities.
The US site is on track to exceed $45 million in sales this year, adding more than 2 million customers since its launch 2 years ago. Bookshop.org is also expanding internationally: In the UK it has raised more than £2 million for booksellers, and a beta site is live in Spain.
"We want the barriers preventing small businesses from truly participating in ecommerce to be swept away,” Hunter said.