A well-chosen handful of books can twist the course of history. Specifically, the history of racism in the United States, evident once again during the brutal arrest that ended the life of George Floyd in May of last year. At least that’s what Kathy M. Burnette, the owner of a small Chicago bookstore, thought when a protest movement swept the country over his death and coalesced around three words: “Black Lives Matter”(Black lives matter). So she decided to make a list of 100 titles that testify to racial inequality. He spread that relationship through the profile of his bookstore in Bookshop, the alternative platform to Amazon that arrives in Spain this Monday. In one week, Burnette sold 10,000 copies from coast to coast of the country. And thereby fueled the spirit of protest.
The American Andy Hunter, publisher and founder of Bookshop a triennium ago, explains by videoconference that this volume of sales would have been impossible without an electronic commerce platform behind it that supplied orders centrally: “We do not depend on the inventory of any individual store, the book is sent directly to the client through a logistics operator that uses the warehouses of the distributors ”. Of the half a thousand independent bookstores that exist in Spain, according to data from the trade union, Bookshop has already achieved the endorsement of 200. On the page each seller has their own space, personalized in the image and likeness of their establishment. Here you can post lists of recommendations, like the one Burnette created in Chicago. In this way, Hunter explains, the bookseller’s prescription, the very essence of his trade, is digitized.
The entrepreneur adds that during the Trump era, bookstores became an indispensable stronghold from which to fight the most radical slogans of the White House. However, its pedagogical usefulness contrasts with the figures of a very unbalanced market: for every issue that a US bookseller dispatches, Amazon sells 300. “We needed a tool that would convey part of that commercial flow through the small bookstore,” says the founder of Bookshop. In the Spanish version of the platform, purchases associated with a specific store – which can be selected thanks to an interactive map, a directory and through the prescription lists – leave the bookseller a margin of 25% on the sale price. If the acquisition is made on the general page, that same percentage goes into a common fund, then distributed equally among all the points of sale. The order is delivered in 24 hours.
It is not that Bookshop has landed in Spain, but that two Spaniards went looking for it. Marc Subirats and Marta Marrón, experts in technology companies, sponsored a small bookstore in Barcelona about to close. But the pandemic thwarted all their plans and they saw in Bookshop an alternative to Amazon “that would allow us to survive in the middle of the health crisis,” she says. They contacted Hunter and decided to adapt to this market a project that in the United States and the United Kingdom had a turnover of more than 60 million euros last year, of which 12 went to 1,500 registered establishments. They created a team of seven employees, all former booksellers, and began to negotiate terms with the distribution giants – Planeta and Penguin Random House, among others – that would make the platform financially viable.
The amount of the agreed discounts is secret, like many other contracts in the sector, although it is the key to the Spanish project. In parallel, Subirats and Marrón presented their idea to the other party involved: the booksellers. The Uruguayan Cecilia Picún, owner of Librerío de la Plata (Sabadell, Barcelona), specialized in Latin American authors, joined without hesitation: “I had not considered participating in online sales because my business is based on the recommendation to the reader, but that is exactly what characterizes Bookshop ”. Like others consulted, Picún also values that the platform takes charge of “the most hostile facet of virtual commerce”. That is, to manage orders, package them and send them to the recipient. In return, she gives the company the aggregated data of her customers, which they leave their trace on the page during the purchase.
Lola Larumbe, from the Alberti bookstore in Madrid, is more critical: “I don’t think it makes sense to insist on online sales. If you want to support independent booksellers, the best thing is that you visit their stores ”. For his part, Enrique Marcial, president of the Madrid Libraries Guild and owner of Marcial Pons, believes that Bookshop is “a great alternative, especially for those who lack their own online sales strategy.” This is not his case, since he created a profitable website years ago: “I still have to assess whether a new platform compensates me.”
Bookshop has signed a good practice pact with the Spanish Confederation of Booksellers Guilds and Associations (CEGAL), by which the platform gives each entrepreneur the freedom to adhere to this new experience or decline it. CEGAL launched the All Your Books page to the public two years ago, which adds 400 profiles of bookstores without storage or common logistics. Marcial ditch: “They are two different projects, Bookshop will be able to compete against Amazon. Unless we only manage to confuse the reader with so many portals for so little market ”.