By Dennis Abrams
As Jennifer Rankin writes in The Guardian, “Independent booksellers are being sent reinforcements in the battle against Amazon with a website that will support that dwindling band of high street traders, backed by the world’s largest publisher.”
The website in question is My Independent Bookshop, a social network from Penguin Random House that launched this Thursday, is designed to be an online space where “anyone can review their favourite books and show off their good taste on virtual shelves.”
But most importantly, readers will also be able to purchase books from the site; a small percentage of the proceedings will go to support local independent bookstores.
Rankin describes it like this: “A reader’s nominated home store – which doesn’t even have to be geographically close – will get 5% of the revenues from every physical book they buy and 8% on an eBook. The site is a tie-up with the e-commerce website Hive, which has been offering a similar service to local shops since 2011.”
The Guardian quotes Terry Pratchett as describing My Independent Bookshop as “a very, very good thing,” and says that other authors, including Lisa Jewell, Alastair Campbell, Irvine Welsh and Tony Parsons have registered on the site during its month-long testing phase.
Dan Franklin, digital publisher at Penguin Random House, told Rankin that such national chains as Waterstones and Foyles had not been included “in an attempt to recreate the independence and quirkiness of non-chain bookshops.”
He added that that while the publisher would not make money from the website, there were still benefits. “The data is very valuable,” he said. “We can see what’s trending, what books are popular and how people are interacting.”
He went on to describe the site as “a way of having a more direct conversation with consumers,” who will be given the opportunity to compete for prizes ranging from proof copies to attending author events.
And while Rankin wrote that “The venture underscores how publishers are seeking a closer relationship with readers, as the book world goes through its biggest upheaval since the invention of high-speed printing presses and the railways, Franklin insisted that the Penguin Random House venture was not designed to rival Amazon. “Amazon is a partner of ours and it is in our interest to support what they do.”
Franklin noted that they had decided against using the “intrusive” algorithms that Amazon uses to suggest books that readers might enjoy. Instead, The Independent Bookshop’s recommendations will come from the site’s users, “with the aim of creating a ‘serendipitous way of discovering books.’”
The creators of the site are hoping that the desire to discover new books, along with readers’ “natural curiosity to peer onto other people’s book shelves” will drive users to the site. Already, several readers and authors have created personal pages “a bookshop” as it were, to display 12 books that they enjoy.
For example, Pratchett has selected books by sci-fi writers such as Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, along with Lynne Truss’s best-selling book on punctuation Eats, Shoots & Leaves, writing on t he site that “I come back to this over and over again.” Tony Parson’s library is built around crime novels and thrillers, while Irvine Walsh has built a list that includes Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov along with George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying, “a completely harrowing and stark account of poverty.”
Colin Telford, events manager of Hampshire’s Hayling Island Book Shop (selected by Pratchett as the shop to profits from his orders), said that while it’s too early to anticipate how much the shop could gain, he expects, “some additional income from people we wouldn’t normally see.”
Telford also told the paper that he felt that the decline in independent book stores had “probably reached its limits,” while the bookstores that remain turn to “events, cafes and social media to draw in shoppers.” “Those independent bookshops that are still going are probably going to survive because they have worked out their survival strategy,” he said.