PUBLISHED MARCH/APRIL 2021
by Andy Hunter, CEO, Bookshop.org —
Indie publishers must redouble efforts to support independent bookstores.
The publishing industry has a problem, which we are all aware of: We are moving toward total market dominance of a single online retailer. During the past decade, approximately $8 billion dollars of annual book sales have shifted from brick-and-mortar retailers to Amazon. In January, a lawsuit was filed citing their control of the e-book market; if trends continue, the physical book market is not far behind. From 2015 to 2019, Amazon grew from 37% of the market to 50%. Extrapolating that same 8% annual growth over the next five years puts Amazon at 80% of the market by 2025. Due to their explosive growth during COVID-19, they may reach that market share even sooner.
Though Amazon began as a bookseller, they were not founded out of a love of books. Human booksellers, the kind who own and staff independent bookstores, love books. They have dedicated their lives to them. It is in publishing’s best interest to keep the future of our industry in the hands of people like that.
Bookstores carry a lot more weight than their market share. They are the grassroots organizers of literary culture. They are meeting places for people who care about books: authors, fans, schools, children, and readers of all kinds. They fight for the importance of books in their communities and the world at large.
If we lose bookstores, if Amazon’s growth crowds them out, their book sales will not simply shift to Amazon; without their advocacy, the vitality of books as a part of our culture will be diminished. And we do not know exactly how Amazon will use its huge leverage if it reaches 80% of the consumer book market, but we can guess it will not benefit publishers. An unbalanced market is not a healthy ecosystem in any industry.
Publishers, especially indie publishers, must redouble efforts to support independent bookstores at this critical moment. Bookshop.org may be a small part of the solution, but ultimately publishers must form direct relationships with booksellers. Ask them how best to support them. Rather than scrambling to build direct-to-consumer sales into their websites, publishers can partner with indies or Bookshop.org to sell in a way that does not disintermediate bookstores. Encourage authors to promote independents rather than linking to Amazon, and make it easy for them by giving them templates and guidelines. Supporting bookstores and promoting Amazon alternatives, including chains like Barnes & Noble, must be a priority for all of us.
Indie publishers and indie bookstores share a grassroots approach and character. We are natural allies. The next few years will define the future of our industry. We all must do everything we can to ensure independent bookstores remain a vital part of it.
Andy Hunter is the CEO of Bookshop.org.