It’s hard to believe that Bookshop, the online retailer that shares a percentage of each purchase with independent bookstores, a platform that today officially reached an incredible milestone—$1 million raised to support struggling booksellers all across the country—was supposed to be in beta until the fall.
“We launched with a very simple site that had a bunch of bugs,” Bookshop founder Andy Hunter said. “Basically, we tried to take it easy.”
After launching the site in January, the idea, Hunter said, was to toy around with it, make improvements, and then launch the site later this year as a viable alternative to purchasing books on Amazon, a dominant force in the publishing industry.
Hunter, who works two other jobs, started the venture with an eager team of four other people.
When the coronavirus suddenly shuttered bookstores and endangered the financial well-being of booksellers, Hunter said the team was not at all prepared for what was to follow.
“I don’t think it fully dawned on us how big [Bookshop] was going to be and how many stores would have to suddenly be relying on us,” he said.
In its first full month of operation, Bookshop sold about $50,000 worth of books. By the end of the following month, in March, the site had processed $950,000 in book purchases. When I spoke to Hunter last week, April proceeds had already vaulted the previous record: $3.8 million.
More than 600 bookstores have become Bookshop affiliates as online sales have become practically the only way to buy books, and Amazon’s shipping priorities have shifted to medical supplies and household goods.
With the Bookshop team working remotely now, Hunter described their work as a scrappy, DIY affair. For his part, he’s living in a small Brooklyn apartment with two kids, six and eight years old. He gets up every morning around 5 and gets to bed at 11 that evening. The work shows no signs of slowing down.
Since April 1st, Bookshop has brought on five new team members.
“We’re just trying to control it all,” Hunter said.
At this point, the most stressful part of the job is addressing the hundreds of emails the team receives everyday. Hunter has had to remind himself that not every email carries the same weight, and not every comment, no matter how positive, can get a response.
He’s just happy that the Bookshop staff has jobs, and that they’ve been able to help so many people. The most gratifying messages they receive tend to come from bookstore owners who tell the team that thanks to their initiative, they were able to keep their employees on the payroll for a while yet.