‘I believe books are a social good, and personally they’ve been essential to my understanding of the world, my connection to others, and my development and happiness as a human being’, says Andy Hunter, the founder of brand new book buying platform bookshop.org. ‘In all of my work, I seek to keep books a vital part of our culture.’
Strong words from the man seeking to take on Amazon. Could bookshop.org be the competitor we’ve all been waiting for? For years now, book lovers have been somewhat guiltily buying their titles online, well aware of the existential threat that Amazon’s market dominance poses to the traditional high street bookshop. Bookshop.org aims to offer an alternative – by enabling bookshops to share a collective purchasing platform and by giving them a thirty per cent share of the profit margin on each book sold.
Unusually for an internet entrepreneur, founder Andy Hunter believes strongly in the bricks and mortar of independent bookshops. ‘High street bookshops are run by the best people, people who have devoted their lives to books, and are places where children discover a love of reading, people gather and discuss stories and ideas, and communities stay connected to books and to each other. They are where literary culture takes root, and we need to preserve them.’
So what will his online tool offer? ‘I started Bookshop.org to help them compete with Amazon, which has been growing so quickly it threatens to make bookselling an unsustainable profession. Of course, then Covid-19 emerged as an even more urgent threat. Happily, both problems have the same solution: make it easy for their loyal customers to support them by buying books from them online.’
Amongst increasingly socially conscious consumers, he seems to be meeting a need; readers who care about books, their authors and the shops that sell them seem more than ready to jump ship for ethical reasons. Witness the sea change that has occurred on single-use plastic from many corporations as a result of customers who care about the environment. A responsible use of plastic is now a major selling point for products; indeed companies now use it as a marketing tool. Could bookshop.org do for books what David Attenborough’s documentary did for the environment? Can it prompt a root and branch change in consumer habits?
‘People love bookshops,’ says Hunter. ‘They want to emerge from this pandemic into a world where bookshops still exist. In-store sales are down around 40 per cent at the average store this year. They absolutely need support from online shoppers, and I’m very glad we launched in time to be able to help them.’
Whether bookshop.org can make a dent into Amazon’s whopping fifty per cent share of the books market remains to be seen. But those who want to do their bit for independent booksellers can start with Andy Hunter’s top picks for Christmas gifts which he’s shared with Spectator Life:
For the armchair scientist:
Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe by Brian Greene I have yet to read this, Greene’s most recent book, but I credit his book The Elegant Universe with making me understand the theory of relativity without breaking a sweat. He writes about science simply, cleanly, with great powers of storytelling and clarity, and I will be reading this over the holidays this year. Buy it here.
For the literary types:
Real Life by Brandon Taylor is on the Booker prize shortlist, an amazing achievement for a debut, and the delicate prose and psychological insight apparent in this thoughtful novel demonstrates why the accolades are well-deserved. Available here.
For the nature-lover
The Overstory by Richard Powers is likely the most beautiful book ever written about people and trees. If you’re interested in either, it’s worth a read; if you care about both, it’s necessary.
For the classicist
I love everything Anne Carson writes or translates, and her Antigone, when read slowly and carefully, makes me feel something extraordinarily deep and unnameable.
For the teenage romantic
You Should See Me in A Crown is a high-school drama that deftly deals with issues of race and class while telling a story that is lively, funny, and feel-good. My daughter loved it and yours will too.
For those in need of a laugh
Wow, No Thank You. I have been reading the riotously funny Samantha Irby since she started blogging as “Bitches Gotta Eat” and have always kicked myself that I didn’t reach out to her then and offer her a book deal. Her ribald, hilarious, confessional work is truly original and a wonderful gift for anyone on your list with a sense of humor.