Penguin Random House today launched My Independent Bookshop, a combination social network and e-commerce platform that hopes to benefit independent booksellers whilst providing a virtual counterpart to browsing their shelves. The site allows users to create their own ‘bookshops’, selecting 12 titles they would recommend to others and giving them space to tell other users why, hoping to capture the feeling of a personal recommendation that might be found in brick and mortar bookshops, outside of the standard Amazon algorithms. Those 12 titles can be rotated as often as desired, and the bookshop containing them can also be personalised to users’ own tastes.
The site has launched with a variety of high-profile names having created their own virtual bookshops – including Terry Pratchett, Irvine Welsh, Alastair Campbell and Tony Parsons – as well as 70 independent real-world bookshops, who will use the site as a promotional tool. Users of the site can nominate their preferred bookseller – not necessarily the shop closest to them geographically – to receive a share of the profits of every book sold through their virtual bookshop, thanks to a partnership with retail website Hive. The Bookseller has the figure as 5% commission on physical books and 8% on ebooks.
Tim Walker, president of the Bookseller Association, is optimistic about the venture, despite obvious reservations that it might drive even more people away from brick and mortar shopping: ‘Part of you thinks you shouldn’t encourage your customers to buy books online because we are robbing sales from ourselves. But the counter argument would be that actually customers are shopping online anyway and they also buy from supermarkets, Waterstones, WH Smith, etc. If customers want to buy online and we are not online then they will buy from someone else, so we may as well be in the game and this is giving us an opportunity to have an online presence.’