It has been more than three years since the launch of online retailer Bookshop.org, which rolled out just before the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered bookstores across the U.S. in 2020. Today, Bookshop.org has 1,890 bookstores selling on the site, and an additional 60,000 affiliate members, of which approximately 9,000 are conducting consistent business there.
When stores closed, Bookshop.org got off to a fast start, with $60 million in revenue in 2020, but that dropped to $54 million in 2021 and $45 million in 2022. The company, which offers a profit share, has returned nearly $28 million to independent bookstore partners.
CEO and founder Andy Hunter attributes the site’s shifting sales fortunes to a change in shopping habits. “When we started, we had a huge amount of influx because of the pandemic,” he says. “In 2020, 60% of our sales were bookstores selling directly to customers. Then customers returned to stores and we lost sales. We stabilized at the end of 2022 and early 2023 and are growing again.” Hunter says the company expects sales to bounce back up to $50 million this year.
Now, the platform is looking to expand its customer base. “For now, I think we’ve attracted the type of socially conscious consumer who would naturally seek us out as a channel to buy books,” Hunter says. “Our bestsellers list is different from Amazon’s, which is something we are psyched about. But there are many readers we haven’t reached yet, namely the ones who shop solely on Amazon due to convenience and price. We want those mainstream book buyers.”
Hunter estimates that, despite its success, Bookshop.org still accounts for only 1% of active online book buyers. “Amazon has two advantages over us: shipping times and predatory pricing. But those only apply to physical books.” He sees a level playing field when selling e-books. “E-books are the same price on Amazon as they are on Bookshop.org, and they will arrive in the same amount of time, which is instantly.”
Bookshop.org will begin beta testing e-book sales in November, with the hope of starting public sales in early 2024. The e-books will be available on Apple, Android, and on web-based platforms, and Hunter is in discussions about producing an ink e-reader.
Hunter hopes to gain an edge over Amazon by making content from e-books more sharable and social, as well. “E-books have been too walled off from the rest of the internet and need to be more a part of the online conversation,” he says. “They are filled with interesting ideas and should be out there and given an opportunity to go viral.”
In addition to launching e-books, Bookshop.org is looking into ways to fill the void left by Amazon Smile—the online retailer’s program to share affiliate revenue with charities and nonprofits, which ended in January.
Other projects this fall include the publication of Book-shop.org’s first book, Lydia Davis’s Our Strangers, which was announced at Winter Institute in January. Our Strangers arrives in bookstores October 3, with a first printing of 10,000. “What we want to do is prove that an author can have a successful book in the market without selling through Amazon,” Hunter says.
Asked if the company plans to publish more books, Hunter hedged, saying if it does, it will likely be with a publishing partner rather than as a solo venture.
Hunter and members of his team will appear at numerous regional events this fall, offering seminars and one-on-one consultations. “Our priority is serving booksellers,” he says. “We’ll be working with them directly to help them sell more books on our site and to share some best practices.”