“The ingenuity keeping indie bookstores going” appear in the Washington Post and is by Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of the Nation magazine, writes a weekly column for The Post.
“For nearly half a century, Charis Books was a fixture of Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood. The stuccoed building served as a gathering place for feminist readers to browse, congregate and participate in a litany of events. Before and after the bookstore’s recent move to Agnes Scott College, residents from across the city have relied on Charis Circle, its nonprofit arm, to access everything from homeless shelters to legal assistance.
In the wake of the pandemic, Charis Books has been forced to close its brick-and-mortar operation. Its owners are relying on online orders, gift-certificate sales and donations to their nonprofit to continue paying their staff and operating both the business and nonprofit. So many independent bookstores are in a similar bind. Literary hubs such as the Strand in New York and Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., had to lay off employees; others like City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco and Marcus Books in Oakland, Calif., are relying on crowdfunding campaigns to stay afloat.
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It’s not for a lack of demand. These past few months have seen a surge of interest in books. But the profits, by and large, are being siphoned to Amazon. The corporate behemoth, launched as “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore” in 1995, has dominated the book industry for years. Today, Amazon owns its own publishing unit, literary social platform and line of e-readers. (And Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Post.) The retailer accounts for more than half of all book sales in the United States, and some have projected that share to grow to 70 percent, based on Amazon’s performance in April.AD
Now, indie bookstores everywhere, confronted with the twin threats of Amazon and covid-19, are struggling to survive. And in response, readers across the country are banding together to save them.
One emerging player is Bookshop.org, an online marketplace founded by former publisher Andy Hunter to support indie bookstores and challenge Amazon’s market dominance. Instead of having to stock, package and deliver books on their own, indie storefronts can sell their books through the website — which handles the entire fulfillment process through a wholesaler — and reap 30 percent of the profits, all without customers having to set foot in a store.
Hunter launched Bookshop.org at the end of January with a team of five people. The outbreak of the coronavirus has since prompted an outpouring of support. On Feb. 1, the website had raised a little more than $2,000 for indie bookstores. By the end of April, it had raised over $1 million, and this month, that total is expected to grow sixfold.