As a result of the new coronavirus crisis, sales at downloadable audiobookstore Libro.fm and online Bookshop.org have soared. Both digital stores collaborate with independent booksellers and return a share of the sales back to them.
"It has been a record month for sales and new memberships, as well," said Mark Pearson, CEO and cofounder of LIbro. "Twenty new stores had signed up for the service over the weekend. We have never seen that happen before." Sales for the 30-day period ended March 15 were up about 150% over the comparable time ended February 15, Pearson said.
Libro.fm, which is based in Seattle, saw the impact of the crisis early, with independent bookstores in their community closing temporarily. "We immediately moved [the business model] so that affiliate bookstores get all the revenue from the sale of any new memberships until the end of the month," Pearson said. A code is necessary for the customer to activate the promotion.
Pearson called it a radical move. "If independent bookstores go under, we don't exist," he said candidly. "Independent bookstores don't do social distancing, Amazon does, so we want to make sure people are reminded of the value of their curation and the community."
Bookshop.org has also seen a sudden increase in bookstores signing up as affiliates. "A lot of stores opened accounts recently as an emergency measure in case they need to close up shop," said founder Andy Hunter. "Until then, they will continue fulfill their own web orders from their stores."
Ingram handles fulfillment for Bookshop.org, which launched in beta only six weeks ago and currently offers print titles and audiobooks on CD.
Bookshop.org had a 400% jump in sales over the past four days, as the coronavirus crisis took hold in the public consciousness. "There has been a groundswell of support on social media with people linking to our site and asking people to support their local bookstores," Hunter said. Bookshop.org returns 25% of any sale back to the affiliate bookstore, though, Hunter said his team is looking at promotions aimed at helping bookstores even more to get through this challenging period.
"We have had up to this point about twenty active booksellers on the site, and ten times more than that kicking the tires" said Hunter, who pointed to booksellers such as Dudley's Bookshop and Cafe in Bend, Ore., Iconoclast Books in Haley, Idaho, and White Whale Bookstore in Pittsburgh, as being particularly active. Bookshop also allows media sites and individuals to sign up as affiliates. So far, store traffic and sales are divided up evenly among all three groups.
The increase in popularity of the site has put pressure on Hunter and his developers, Happy Fun Corp of Brooklyn, to make more site improvements faster. "We've fixed a lot of bugs since our launch," said, adding, "The next step is to offer a geolocation map for customers to discover what bookstores near them are affiliates.
Until then, "so long as our servers stay up — we've checked them, and they are good — we'll be here for bookstores," he said.