Can this work? There was a discussion in the comments section of a recent post of how the book publishing industry might set up a collaborative online bookselling site to compete with Amazon. I remain concerned about anti-trust barriers to an initiative like this by publishers, but bookstores — that’s surely a horse of a different color. But can a collaborative online store work without support from publishers? Would publishers see any motivation to support a new site as against Amazon? What form would any support take? Bigger discounts might not be universally popular, and avoiding that sinkhole is in any case one of the motivations behind trying to outcompete Amazon.

Apparently the American Booksellers Association has been thinking along these lines too. Their “store”, due to launch in January is named Bookshop and Publishers Weekly has a piece about the idea/plan. There’s a discussion at LitHub encouraging us to order from our independent bookstore which mentions the Bookshop site. (Link via The Digital Reader.)

My worry is that this initiative may end up lacking focus. A sort of affiliate merchant program like Amazon has, using local bookstores as the partners could perhaps work, but I’m not quite sure how this site represents that. Just distributing 10% to stores who’ve signed up as partners, doesn’t represent the same idea, does it? Merely offering to sell people a book isn’t enough, is it? Why wouldn’t people continue going to Amazon? Key to success must be driving traffic to the site: relying solely on people’s good will seems inadequate, especially for an organization which has spent years dissing on-line purchasing. Surely real discounts for purchasers are a requirement, necessary but no doubt not sufficient. Something more is needed, but what? And where’s the margin to fund incentives to come from?

The ABA already offers books through their site Indiebound, though apparently not too many people have taken them up on this. The site isn’t altogether user friendly, and you’d have to be fairly determined to buy books this way. Bookshop is claimed to be better.

As they say at Indiebound:

Why shop Indie?

When you shop at an independently owned business, your entire community benefits:

The Economy

  • Spend $100 at a local-owned business and $52 of that stays in your community. 
  • Spend $50 at a national chain and keep $6.50 in the local community.
  • Spend $50 online with a remote vendor with no sales tax collected and keep not one penny in your local community.
  • Local businesses create higher-paying jobs for our neighbors.
  • More of your taxes are reinvested in your community–where they belong.

The Environment

  • Buying local means less packaging, less transportation, and a smaller carbon footprint.
  • Shopping in a local business district means less infrastructure, less maintenance, and more money to beautify your community.

The Community

  • Local retailers are your friends and neighbors—support them and they’ll support you.
  • Local businesses donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains.
  • More independents means more choice, more diversity, and a truly unique community.

Now is the time to stand up and join your fellow individuals in the IndieBound mission supporting local businesses and celebrating independents.

All true enough, but wouldn’t this tend to discourage me from going to Bookshop too?