Bookshop.org, the ethical book-buying alternative to Amazon, has now generated £3 million in profit since its launch for the 570 independent bookshops using the platform, and is setting the goal to increase online sales for indies by five times in the next five years.
The news comes as a new survey from the Booksellers Association (BA) sheds new light on the digital footprint of independent bookshops in the UK, which Bookshop.org is set to expand even further over the next few years. The BA and Bookshop.org will be conducting the survey on an annual basis, to report on the development of indie bookshop online sales in the UK.
The survey finds that for independent bookshops in the UK online sales make up a total of 7% of their overall revenue, with over half of them reporting that they are either somewhat or very dissatisfied with their online business, and express aspiration to grow their online sales by over 20% in the next year alone. The survey reports that the main obstacles that stand in the way to the indies doing more online business are lack of time and knowledge.
Since the pandemic, the book industry has seen remarkable growth in online sales – 60% of books are now bought online . After generating £3 million for independent booksellers, Bookshop.org’s goal is to increase online sales for the indies by five times by 2028, helping them fulfil their ecommerce potential.
To achieve this, they are asking customers to support independent bookshops through online sales – whether that is the shop’s own ecommerce platform or via Bookshop.org – to bolster the indies’ portion of the online book market.
In addition, Bookshop.org are calling on the wider book industry (authors, publishers, influencers, event organisers, partners) to join them on their mission and actively support independent bookshops to expand digitally, for example linking to Bookshop.org or independent bookshops’ own website, curating lists on the platforms, engaging with indie bookshops on social media, etc.
Independent booksellers are vocal about how their presence on Bookshop.org supported their in-shop efforts, and not merely by bringing in incremental financial revenue. In addition to the commission generated by online sales, their presence on the platform contributed important new customer streams, gave them access to learning opportunities, and enabled them to invest in their local communities and staff, as well as upgrading their premises and funding special author events.
Sheryl Shurville, Co-owner of the Chorleywood and Gerrards Cross Bookshops, said: “Online sales through Bookshop.org are a vital (and growing!) part of our business, contributing significantly to the services we offer to customers. One of our main aims is for our Bookshop.org shop fronts to be the first port-of-call for readers wishing to shop online, connecting us with customers beyond the physical reach of our bricks-and-mortar shops. With this in mind, we anticipate doubling our online sales in the next three years. The Bookshop.org team have been hugely supportive of our activities in this area, and the commission we’ve received so far has helped us to upgrade and refurbish our Gerrards Cross Bookshop, enhancing the experience for customers in the local community.”
Richard Drake, Owner of DRAKE The Bookshop, said: “Bookshop.org is a great way to allow people who are fans of online shopping to still support their high street. The fact that the platform has reached such an incredible milestone demonstrates this perfectly. Obviously, as bookshop owners we think there is nothing better than heading into a bookshop for a browse, but if people can’t do that then continuing to support Bookshop.org means and in turn us means we can continue to use our share to help fund fantastic ventures such as The Great North Author Tour. Many, many physical bookshops do a great job of putting on school events, author talks and signings, and multi-bookshop tours, all of which are vital to our communities and our high streets.”
Over the next five years, Bookshop.org’s goal is to help the indies grow their online sales significantly, not only via direct sales on the platform, but also through their support towards building the booksellers’ online skills and confidence. The Bookshop.org model doesn’t require booksellers to become experts in ecommerce in order to thrive online.
The platform has the benefit of saving them time by offering an accomplished service of stocking, packing and posting books, freeing up precious time for booksellers to bring what they do best to the online word: talking about books, recommending titles, connecting authors with readers, bringing together communities. Furthermore, through Bookshop.org’s regular Town Halls, bookshops can bring additional strength to their business by growing their digital marketing skills.
As part of Bookshop.org’s mission to allow independent bookshops to thrive in the age of ecommerce, last year they secured a partnership with TikTok, as the social media platform grew its role as influencing book-buying trends. Thanks to the partnership with Bookshop.org, independent bookshops have easy access to a way of selling books through their social media, thus reaching an important portion of the online market.
The next step for the ethically conscious retail website is their expansion onto the audio and eBook market. For the first time, independent bookshops in the UK will be able to offer audiobooks and eBooks to their customers, all available on one easy-to-use platform.
As well as a great user experience, seeing audiobooks, eBooks and physical books all sold on the same platform, Bookshop.org will apply the same business model as their physical book sales, offering independent bookshops a more generous cut than other affiliate-based retailer platforms. UK bookshops will be able to keep the full profit margin of any eBooks or audiobooks they sell, while all other sales will generate 10% for the profit pool.
Martin Higgins, UK Retail Director at Penguin Random House, said: “The development of Bookshop.org over the past two and half years in the UK has been remarkable. They have complemented and amplified the growing UK independent bookshop market with an original business model, and have succeeded in ensuring many high street booksellers establish a strong online trading presence. We are looking forward to continuing to work closely with the team at Bookshop.org on their exciting future plans.”
Sophie O’Neill, Managing Director at Inpress Books, commented: “At Inpress we are committed to growing the market for independently published books and we have always relied heavily on support from the independent book trade. Bookshop.org has been transformative in terms of growing sales for indie presses, offering the vital online presence of hand selling and recommendations which is so key to the indie shopping experience. They have been instrumental in creating our word-of-mouth and bookseller led bestsellers. We are completely behind the goal of raising turnover by x5 in the next five years and will do all we can to support Bookshop.org in achieving their ambition. Bookshop.org is a key player in our future strategy, not only as a commercial partner but a partner that reflects the values and ethos of the publishers we represent.”
Nicole Vanderbilt, Managing Director of Bookshop.org UK, said: “Thanks to ethically conscious book-buyers in the UK, we are proud to have reached the milestone of £3 million in incremental profit generated for independent bookshops. However, we believe the online book market has many more opportunities to offer to independent booksellers – in a way, we’ve only helped them scratch the surface so far. As 60% of books are currently bought online, independent bookshops should aim to see a larger proportion of their books also bought online.
We want to help them be competitive in the world of ecommerce, translating their knowledge, passion and creativity to the online world, and freeing them of the logistics of online book order taking and delivery. Whether on our TikTok shop or on the curated lists on our website, we pride ourselves on experimenting and being at the leading edge of new uses of technology for selling books. But we can’t do this on our own: we need publishers, authors, partners, bookshops and readers themselves to embrace our cause. Bookshops are primed and ready on our platform, we need the book world to change their ways. We believe that a world where independent bookshops are successful businesses, with a robust online presence, is a better world for everyone.”