So, I live in a part of Canada famed for its storytelling and saturation of writers. It’s true: we have a bizarre percentage of Canada’s best writers in this province, especially in the capital city, St. John’s. That said, we have neither a downtown library nor an independent bookshop. There’s a Chapters up on Kenmount Road (a dirty, construction-riddled artery that redolent with fast food chains and strip malls), but otherwise, every attempt at having something nice here from the books world has failed. (Why? My theory is that Newfoundlanders, recently famous from a 9/11 musical, love a good story; we just prefer it when it’s coming out of our own mouths, because A) we’re cheap and stories are free, and B) you knows I tells it best kind, b’y. But I digress.) During this crisis, I’ve been unable to get even to Crapters up the road, so have been looking for online sources for books that aren’t Amazon or major corps. Looks like these guys are trying to go up against the titans of the industry.
ANDY HUNTER launched Bookshop.org in beta format six weeks ago, and he expected the business to scale up gradually. The coronavirus upended those plans, like everything else. By March 20th, a week in which 2,400 independent bookshops in America started closing their physical doors, the fledgling literary portal resembled a port in the storm.
The startup aims to redirect readers from Amazon to its own online shop, where customers can either buy books directly or through storefronts set up by individual bookshops (shipping is handled by an industry wholesaler, Ingram). Some larger bookstores already have robust online divisions and are not keen to see those sales diverted. But Bookshop can provide an alternative to Amazon for the 85% of local shops that do not, says Mr Hunter, who is Bookshop’s CEO, the publisher of Counterpoint and Soft Skull Press and a co-founder of the literary sites Electric Literature, Catapult and LitHub. The website gives stores a generous cut of each sale—30% now, instead of the originally planned 25%—and will split 10% of profits equally among member stores. Even before the disaster hit, one Chicago book reviewer was calling it the “Rebel Alliance” to Amazon’s “Empire”.