The emergence of Bookshop.org has been a boon for independent bookstores that have struggled during the last few months. Read on to learn about the function and purpose of Bookshop.org and how authors can get involved.
What is Bookshop?
Launched in January, Bookshop.org is an e-commerce platform with a mission to financially support local independent bookstores. By donating at least 10 percent of every sale to a fund assisting independent bookstores, authors, and the publications that cover them, Bookshop.org has established itself as one of the premier socially conscious alternatives when shopping for books online. Bookshop.org complements the two most popular current options for supporting indies: linking to Indiebound, the American Booksellers Association’s e-commerce program, and partnering directly with your local indie, which is a great way to support both indies and your immediate community.
Bookshop.org has become incredibly successful, in part due to the COVID-19 crisis and the temporary shutdown of hundreds of bookstores nationwide. The New York Times reported that last January, Bookshop CEO Andy Hunter told investors he hoped the site would hit $30 million in sales within the first two years. As of now, Bookshop is on pace to exceed $40 million in the first year alone, and the site has already generated some $3.6 million for its indie bookstore earnings pool. The site also operated as a lifeline for many accounts amid stay-at-home orders and a national retail shutdown. Some stores opted to quickly shift their online sales over to Bookshop.org accounts for the weeks and months they were unable to access their own storefronts and fulfill orders. Many of those accounts still use Bookshop, but plan to switch back to their own online storefronts when the time is right. The fluidity and user-friendliness of this opt-in/opt-out system aligns with Bookshop’s mandate, which is to exist as a support system for those accounts who need it, but not compete against those who don’t.
How does it work?
Bookstores decide whether to opt in to Bookshop.org and set up an affiliate page on the site. Once they do, they earn a 30 percent affiliate fee on every sale made via their account. Bookshop.org (and Ingram) handle all the shipping and fulfillment, so this is relatively “hands-free” for busy booksellers. For smaller stores and accounts who lack the bandwidth to maintain a robust internet presence, partnership with Bookshop has been an incredibly helpful lifeline.
One testament to how the site can help in a pinch is that several Black-owned bookstores signed on with Bookshop.org to help them manage the avalanche of orders that came their way earlier this year. The ability to direct customers to a user-friendly, indie-focused platform has proven invaluable to stores who might otherwise have lost sales to other retailers.
How can authors get involved?
Another way Bookshop.org demonstrates its commitment to independent bookstores is through an earnings pool that is shared across a broad swath of indies. Ten percent of every regular direct sale made through the Bookshop.org homepage is added into an earnings pool for independent bookstores, which is distributed evenly every six months across all indies who opt in, even those who do not have a Bookshop.org affiliate page.
The Bookshop affiliate program is unique in that it is open to all book lovers: publications, media outlets, bloggers, passionate readers, and, yes, authors, too! Setting up an affiliate account costs zero dollars and takes about ten minutes. The process couldn’t be simpler and it has a host of benefits. For every book sold through a Bookshop affiliate link, the account holder makes 10 percent profit on the sale, while an additional 10 percent is added to the aforementioned earnings pool. Whether you want to create lists or simply link to individual titles, Bookshop is structured so that it’s easy and intuitive to tailor your affiliate page to your specific needs. Authors have had success creating pages that feature their favorite summer reading, their top tens in various categories, and of course their own books. This handy brochure explains how authors can become affiliates of Bookshop.org and customize their own pages.
It’s still as important as ever for authors to link readers to Indiebound, the American Booksellers Association’s platform. Remember as well that shopping direct from your local indies remains the single most effective way to support them both financially and spiritually, especially those stores who do maintain their own digital storefronts. And there are so many other things that your local indie can do for you both online and otherwise: creating tailored preorder campaigns, selling signed books, and partnering organically with authors to provide personalized books to fans, friends, and family. However, as online sales remain strong, and in-store shopping remains out of reach in some states, we hope you will take advantage of Bookshop.org as a handy and worthwhile alternative.
Brian Etling is Coordinator, Account Marketing at Penguin Random House.