Online bookseller Bookshop.org is on track this month to surpass $15 million returned to independent bookstores since the company began in 2019. That figure is in addition to the $250,000 it donated to Binc's "Survive to Thrive" campaign. “It is a milestone we are anticipating surpassing by the end of July,” Andy Hunter, CEO of Bookshop.org, said.
Sales have reached $29 million this year, including tax and shipping, and are up 17% for the first half of 2021 compared with 2020. That increase comes despite an expected decline in sales compared to a year ago since April, when most bookstores around the country began to reopen form normal business. In the April-June period, sales were down 20% from the comparable time in 2020, less than the 30% drop that Hunter had been expecting. “Last year, June was very busy for us, particularly with the huge sales of antiracist books with the Black Lives Matter protests happening around the country. This year is more like a normal June.”
The site currently hosts 1,100 bookstores, with 400 using Bookshop exclusively for their e-commerce and another 700 that use it in addition to their own e-commerce solutions. Notably, among the top 10 highest earning bookstore sites on Bookshop, six are Black-owned bookstores, Hunter said. Of the sites top-selling books, several are multicultural and diverse titles, including How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith (Little, Brown), Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley Ford (Flatiron), Yoke by Jessamyn Stanley (Workman), and Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (Knopf), The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris (Atria) and Long Division by Kiese Laymon (Scribner).
“Our bestseller list does not look like the typical list,” Hunter said. “It reflects the diversity and iconoclastic nature of the community we serve.”
The site launched in the U.K. last year and in Spain earlier this year. Now, the focus is on improving the user experience in the United States, Hunter said. Among the plans are to allow bookstores to sell merchandise and sidelines, allow in-store pick up and, eventually, fulfill directly from a bookstore's own stock. “Ultimately, we want bookstores to succeed and our goal is to help them capture more e-commerce,” Hunter said. To help promote Bookshop.org, Kimberly Sneed recently joined the company as chief marketing officer. Sneed served as director of brand strategy and partnerships at Penguin Random House from 2012 to 2015.
In addition to bookstores, Bookshop.org has some 26,000 affiliates, such as magazines, media outlets and influencers, which generated $8 million in sales in 2020. “Oprah, Time, the Atlantic, are all selling books through us,” Hunter said, adding, “a year ago they all would have linked to Amazon, but we pay twice as much as Amazon does for affiliate sales.”
Addressing competition, Hunter said he wants to see Barnes & Noble succeed, but sees Amazon as a rival – one that is vulnerable in certain ways. “There is more awareness than ever of the damage Amazon can do to communities and the book ecosystem,” said Hunter. “There is more antitrust activity happening around Amazon and a social awakening among consumers about how they spend their money and trying to do it in a socially conscious way. Consumers know they are creating the future with how they spend their money.”