Hitting The Mark

Hitting The Mark

Conversations with founders and investors about the intersection of brand clarity and startup success with your host, brand strategist and author Fabian Geyrhalter.

Fabian

EP077 – Bookshop.org: Andy Hunter, Founder & CEO

Strategic Clarity + Verbal Clarity + Visual Clarity

Andy Hunter founded Bookshop.org with a mission to disrupt Amazon’s book sales and put them back into the hands of bookstores.

 

He sees his brand to be the MC and hands the mike over to the people who sell and love books. A mesmerizing uphill battle that you can witness him slowly winning by means of passion, dedication, and shared values between bookshop.org, physical bookstores, and last but not least book buyers that care about more than the lure of next-day shipping.

 

As an author, it was wonderful to have Andy on the show, but also as a brand-builder since there is a lot to be learned from how he and his team have created a disruptive and beloved brand in just two years.

Notes

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Welcome to the show, Andy.

Andy Hunter:

Thank you. Great to be here.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Oh, it’s such a pleasure to finally have you. I was flirting with the idea of trying to get you on for a long, long time and I’m so glad I finally did. I’m an author, obviously, I’m very familiar with your space. I’ve been watching your brand grow over the years, but is it true that Bookshop.org is just a bit over two years old? That kind of blows my mind since it seems like such an institution.

Andy Hunter:

Yeah. We’re actually a bit under two years old. On January 28th is when we launched, January 28th, 2020. So we’re about as old as COVID. And I think COVID really altered the fate of us as a company too.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Well, yeah. Before we get into that topic, because it is a big topic with you, if you launched in that year, let’s talk a little bit about why you brought Bookshop to life which in layman’s terms I think it’s really basically creating an alternative to Amazon and celebrating indie stores. But tell us a little bit more about what drove you to create the brand. Obviously, it’s a fight that you’re in. It’s an uphill battle. It’s a huge conglomerate. It’s hard to get booksellers minds to change and all of that. So what drove you and how did you get to where it is today?

Andy Hunter:

Well, I’m a book person and I’ve been in the publishing world for about 10 years. But before that I was in magazines and building audiences. And before that I was doing B2B software and e-commerce stuff for companies like Disney and MGM. So I had a weird background that was partially like tech and partially content and audience building and all that. So I had all of these different experiences that gave me a skillset, which was relatively unique in my industry. When I got into publishing, I thought that this would be the end, like this would be my home, because I always love books more than anything else. And the fact that I got to start actually publishing books and starting a bunch of popular websites about books, including Electric Literature, Literary Hub. Literary Hub has 25 million readers a year, which I co-created. And Catapult Books, which publishes books and all these great entrepreneurial endeavors in the book space. I thought I would be done, but the whole time I was watching as Amazon grew and grew.

And I watched as Amazon went from in 2015, when I started Catapult, Amazon was about 37% of the book market. By the time 2019 rolled around, it was about 50% of the book market. And that market share came out of everyone else’s pockets, especially independent or local or brick and mortar bookstores. And that’s happening at the same time that in general e-commerce is growing like 17% year over year. So it seems like e-commerce isn’t going away, more and more people are going to buy stuff online. And if Amazon keeps growing at its rate, which is 8% year over year, it’s going to be at 80% of every book sold in 2025. Which for me, as a person who loves books, I understand that, that’s really going to be devastating to the whole ecosystem around books. It means that kind of in a way, everybody’s working for Amazon at that point.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Well, it’s a monopoly right. Which is scary in itself.

Andy Hunter:

Especially for something like books, because books are so important. I don’t think that any single technology has contributed to the evolution of human consciousness and societies like books have. Books changed everything and they are how we expand our knowledge as human beings and continue on. And they’re too precious to entrust to any single retailer. Even if Amazon was most benevolent company in the world, you still wouldn’t want them to completely control a major cultural industry like books. And so I felt like God, somebody’s going to do something. And I kept waiting for somebody to do something. Somebody who had more resources than me and better connections than me and nobody ever did. And so in 2019, I’m like we have to create a version of e-commerce for book selling that can support local, small, independent businesses like the bookstores that I grew up with and loved to visit in every little community.

And there’s so many studies and evidence that bookstores really benefit communities in many, many ways. Every one of them is an activist for the importance of books in that community. And they work with schools, they work with book clubs, they bring authors to town. They’re activists, telling people every day books are important. They’re also really great for downtowns. They make the value of a downtown higher if it has a bookstore in it. And so they benefit the whole community in so many ways. And if Amazon gets from, they’re probably at 60% of book sales now, if they get from 60 to 80, most of those stores are not going to be around. And that’s going to happen in the next four or five years if somebody doesn’t do something to help independent bookstores compete with Amazon for market share. And that’s basically Bookshop’s origin story. I was like, we had to do something about it. So I wanted to build it.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah, no, well, it’s amazing. And I mean, let’s talk about that launch because launching anything, well, almost anything in 2020 was a nightmare. But here you came in to basically save bookstores in a time where they needed it most. And provide them with the thing that they didn’t have, which is an online outlet, an e-commerce opportunity, which is really easy for them to “plug and play.” But not everyone thought you were the savior they needed. How was the 2020 launch and why did not every bookstore just flock to you with open arms? I mean, it seems like they really needed you.

Andy Hunter:

Yeah. Well, when we launched, we had four people and myself. We were in beta, it was January 20th, 2020. We had a long view. I was thinking that a holiday season would be when we were really shown. And we would have almost a year to fix bugs and improve the platform. So I was thinking really September would be when we really tried to get competitive. And instead, six weeks after we launched, COVID hit. Every bookstore in the country went into lockdown. They couldn’t put their employees’ health at risk by having them come in. They couldn’t fulfill orders. They basically could only sell online or go out of business. And so we had this massive onboarding of stores. So around 2000 new bookstores, bookstores that sell new books in the country. And we onboarded 1100 of them in just a few months. And we went from doing $50,000 in sales completely in February, to doing about 200 to $750,000 of a day by the time June hit.

So it was absolutely insane. It was also a totally white knuckled ride. Nobody was sleeping. Everybody was getting up like going to bed at 11:00 PM, getting up at 5:00 AM, trying to keep the system up, trying to keep it from crashing, trying to make sure that the orders were fulfilled because it was madness. And we were trying to hire people and grow the team. Because we went from being a $0 business to that June, we made over $10 million in a month and we were getting all these customers. It was crazy. And all these bookstores were like, thank God you came along. We wouldn’t have been able to survive the pandemic without you. Now, you asked why weren’t we fully embraced? There’s a couple of reasons.

One, 90% of bookstores in the country did not have successful e-commerce platforms. And so we were really, really useful to the stores that hadn’t invested anything in technology that didn’t have a mastery of e-commerce that weren’t good at it. And that’s like a lot of stores, but there are some stores that were really good in e-commerce and that put a lot of time, and energy, and money into their own sites. And so they were more like who is this new site? And everybody who I want them supporting my store, via my website. And yet their Bookshop.org customers are thinking that, that’s where they should go to support independent bookstores.

So even though that’s only 10% of stores, it’s still 200 stores. And so those stores are going to have much more mixed feelings about consumer solution that is sending customers to it instead of their personal web sites. Now, I do think that that resistance from those stores has gone away quite a bit because also people didn’t know who we are. They didn’t know what our values were. They didn’t know if we were just going to like sell it to Amazon or do something shady. So there’s a lot of skepticism about startups and e-commerce in general, especially in the book world, which is-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

That’s what I was thinking,

Andy Hunter:

… physical books. So they’re not going to jump on the bandwagon right away. So there was skepticism for a couple of reasons. But we were always understanding that skepticism, we never argued with anyone. We just tried to demonstrate what our values were every single day. And by now, I almost never encounter anybody that has reservations because we’ve earned so much money for bookstores it’s over $21 million worldwide. And right now I’m in the process of distributing another $1.5 million to bookstores. Bookstores, some of which aren’t even using Bookshop.org. As long as you have a physical bookstore, you can qualify for receiving funding from us even if you don’t use us for e-commerce. So-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

How does that work?

Andy Hunter:

… we’re trying to lift all boats. Well, they just sign up. Basically, if they’re an accredited bookstore with the America Bookseller Association, we just give 10% of our profits into a profit sharing pool and anybody who has a bookstore qualifies. Because we didn’t want to exclude bookstores that already had great websites. We want to support them, just like we support the bookstores who use us for e-commerce.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

That is amazing. And I mean, that’s how you show that you walk the talk. That this is not well, you have to sign up and be on our site, sell on our site. Otherwise, you don’t get anything from us, but you actually really spread that love with the entire community of accredited booksellers. That’s amazing.

Andy Hunter:

Because we’re mission based, we really are who we say we are. We’re in this to make sure that our children grow up with bookstores, that bookstores stay a part of our cultural fabric. We think bookstores are really special places and they’re staffed by really special people. I mean, nobody goes into book selling because they want to get rich, they go into book selling because they love books. And so they’re really passionate, special people and we just want to keep it all going. And honestly, there’s a lot of human happiness involved in small businesses and in small communities, and our overall societal trend towards digital monopolist and big box retailers, hollowing out people’s downtowns and breaking down the community bonds that used to hold society together, isn’t really a good thing.

And you don’t have to disrupt everything that was good about society in order to make the new digital age. You can actually create digital institutions that reinforce the things that were good about society before. Every thinks about disruption is like replacing something and breaking it down and laying waste to it and replacing it. But we’re using digital disruption to reinforce the things that we think are worth saving.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Well, you can disrupt something that is not necessarily positive. And then you can disrupt it in a positive way like you do. Do you feel to a certain extent that what you built with Bookshop is in a way a movement?

Andy Hunter:

I hope so. I mean, I think it’s part of a movement that is not just isolated to us. I would put socially conscious consumption in general as a movement that people are more and more waking up to, partially because of things like global warming, or pesticides, or just e-waste. Overall, people are more aware that the small consumer choices they make every day, where they buy their food, how they throw away their things like if their excessive consumers or not, those things are shaping the world that we live in. That everybody has a responsibility towards the future and we’re creating that future with our consumption habits.

So that is a movement that is much bigger than Bookshop.org. We’re just a small part of that. A lot of those people are readers. A lot of people who like books are also socially conscious. So that works out really well for us because our message and mission is aligned with what they already care about, but those people are also probably looking at alternative forms of energy. They’re looking at ways to buy local or buy organic. They’re looking at ways to reduce, recycle that kind of thing. They look at carbon footprints and they try to shop from carbon neutral businesses, things like that. So that’s the movement that we’re part of. I don’t think that we started that movement, but we’re happy to be part of it.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Absolutely. And with any two-sided marketplace, the big question is always chicken before egg, what’s going on? Who do you actually market to initially? And how do you craft different brand messages for two different audiences while still staying true to the core of your brand. But to you, that core of the brand seems to work for booksellers just as well as the book buyers, because there’s this shared belief in what is right. But how did you build out the audience side of things? Because it’s one thing to get the booksellers to be on your platform, but then how do you get people to know that there is Bookshop.org and what you stand for? And I mean, I’m sure it’s an uphill battle like anything. But how did that work initially, once you had the first stores on, how did you ensure the stores, or is it not a problem because the stores bring their own customers?

Andy Hunter:

Well, it’s definitely a little bit of both. We did guerrilla publicity. I hired independent publicist because I had experience doing magazine editorial for years and running websites that cover things. I knew how to pitch. We got great, great media in the beginning and some of those articles went viral. There were a lot of people looking for ways to support small businesses when COVID hit, we benefited from that. And also there were people in the media who were looking for feel good stories at a time that everybody was feeling really upset and fearful. And so they were like, oh wait, this is this nice thing that’s happening. They’re saving hundreds of bookstores. And so that story took off for those reasons. So a lot of it was just organic and those stories going viral on social media and being passed around friends that also cared about bookstores and cared about books.

And we’ve really benefited from that. Now, the other side of it is definitely capturing the audiences of our stores. If we have 1,100 stores, now we have 1,300, but at the time that we kind of crested after our launch, we had 1,100 and every one of those stores might just have 1,000 customers that they bring to us. And that’s generally how I believe that we’re going to be competitive with Amazon. Because we also have an affiliate program and we’ve got 50,000 affiliates. Some of those affiliates bring in two customers, it doesn’t matter. Because altogether, we have over 2 million customers that we’ve brought from our stores and affiliates. And that’s like, instead of saying like, oh, well Amazon is 150 million customers. How are you ever going to beat them?

You’re like, well, how do we create a tool that’s so useful for all these tiny little subcultures, and tiny stores, and influencers, and podcasts, and et cetera, et cetera, that they all let their audience know about us? And then we cobble together audiences of thousands of small communities and that’s how we get a customer base that can make it competitive with Amazon. And we’re just beginning. I mean, honestly, even though I think we’ve been phenomenally successful compared to what people thought we would be able to do, we’re probably only about 1% or so of Amazon’s book sales. And I think we can easily quadruple it from here.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah. Well, congrats on your success so far, because in my little introductory statement, I really meant that. That Bookshop.org to me, you’ve been around four or five years. That’s just how it feels to me as far as how the brand resonates with people. And it just seems like it’s always been around. So kudos to you on that because that’s kind of important in the world of branding. That you feel like well they’re part of our fabric, right. So that’s fantastic. There’s one thing that I saw last night on Bookshop, because of course I wanted to first make sure that my book is on there. That was important. Otherwise, I would’ve canceled the interview, but I looked at my books and some other people’s books and I realized that there are no books ratings or reviews. Did I just click on the wrong books or is it something that you do intentionally?

Andy Hunter:

It’s not so much intentional as it’s a resources issue. When we launched, we went from the U.S. and then the UK bookstores were having big problems. They had even fewer options than bookstores in the U.S. had, where almost none of the stores in the UK had websites. And they were all like, if we don’t have something by the holidays, we’re all cooked, please come to the UK. So as soon as we got our stuff together in the U.S., we started building our UK site and we launched that in November. And then we launched a site in Spain, in May. And so we’ve only had the chance. And then at that point, we’re like, let’s stop expanding internationally and start making our site better. And user reviews and things like that are going to be part of making this site better. But we also want them to be in a non-abuse manner. The Amazon reviews have turned into garbage and it’s easy to-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

It’s a game, yeah exactly.

Andy Hunter:

Yeah. So we want to create user reviews within a system that actually has user profiles where people can set reading goals, they can exchange opinions about books and it becomes closer to like you would find on Goodreads or where a reader can feel like, oh, this is my reading home. And as I said our reading goal for the year, I can gamify that and congratulate people when they buy books and all that. So we are going to have reviews, but they’re going to be part of a system that brings a lot of value to the customers. And I think because of that, it’ll be less easy to game and then the reviews will be better for everybody.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

That is a fascinating topic. And we should talk about this more offline because I actually brainstormed a lot about how a system like this could work. So maybe I give you some of my notes because as we talked prior, I also run this thing called Libreli where we allow authors to have a dropdown with a lot of links to different sites so that people don’t just click on Amazon, but they can actually buy the book from different places and it’s automatically updated. And with that same company we started thinking about how can reviews be handled better? So that is a fascinating topic to me for sure. But let’s move over to the brand part of the conversation. I mean, this is a very plain brand comment, but I really love your logo. How did that come about? Was it part of a redesign at some point, or did you launch with it?

Andy Hunter:

No, it was my buddy’s wife who was a designer. And when I was creating the pitch deck, I asked him for his help. We had worked on a few things before and I knew his wife was a good designer. So she put together some ideas and the logo is just a B that is made from two stacked books. But it also sort of looks like a store awning. If you look at it, it could look like a B, it could look like two books on top of each other, but it could also look like an awning of a store. So it’s kind of got three ways to read it visually, all of which tie into our message. So that was great. Now, we are doing a brand refresh with some professionals. So we’re keeping that core idea, but I think we’re going to spruce it up and make it a little better.

And we thought a lot about our brand voice and who we are. We consider ourselves MCs. So the bookstores are the stars but as a brand, we try to just put them forward. I think we are more effective when the stores are telling their stories and we’re driving customers that way. So if you go to our homepage, you’ll see, it’s almost all curated lists from our stores. Our stores rotate in and out. They might write a list of like the 20 best science fiction books published last year. We’ll put that in our homepage for a while. If it’s Black History Month, then they might create a bunch of lists in that theme. We’ll put those on our homepage.

So that we’re always kind of promoting our stores and our stores’ contents and putting those up front and same on social media. We try to always put the spotlight on our stores. And so that’s the way we express our mission. And that’s the way our brand works with all of these other brands, because it’s an interesting position to be this umbrella and underneath it, you have so many small businesses and you want them to be able to have their own branding and their own vibe as well. So we’re always playing with that concept.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

I love that thought of being the MC. That’s really brilliant. And for a lot of reasons, not just for elevating their own brands and celebrating them, and their content, and their thinking, and their worlds and their tribes. But it’s also fantastic for you because I just got off the call with a client this morning. And the biggest problem that they have and a lot of companies have is they have no time to create content. I mean, it takes time to create quality content and here you are having a tribe of 1300 or many more at this point, store owners who love to create lists, and who love to talk about books, and leveraging them and putting them in a pedestal. I mean, it just works both ways.

Andy Hunter:

Yeah. And another thing that’s wonderful about it is that we always look for ways that we are not Amazon, where we can make it really clear to customers this is not Amazon. And Amazon, the recommendations come to you from two ways. One an algorithm could tell you about a book because they think that they know your taste by what books you bought before, or number two, a publisher could pay them to promote a book to you. And a lot of it is paid promotion. Now, AMS is a huge, huge revenue driver for them, which is Amazon’s Marketing Services. So there’s not a lot in the way of actual human beings, recommending books when you go to Amazon, but Bookshop is all human recommendations.

There’s no algorithms involved. It’s all like, people who are passionate about their books and they’re passionate about, if it’s American history, then they’re passionate about that. They’re creating great content around that. And we’re just surfacing it for you. Because if you think about your own reading history, if I think about my reading history, I buy and read books when somebody I trust tells me, I should read them. If it’s a person that I know, like my friend, my mom, my wife I might buy a book and read it. If it’s Oprah Winfrey, or Barack Obama, or an influencer that I respect, I might want to read a book. If-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

If I say that you should read my book, you should read my book.

Andy Hunter:

Exactly. But it’s true if I trust you and I think that you’re interesting, then I would want to read your book.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Well, Andy, I’m working on it, I’m working on it.

Andy Hunter:

I don’t think people buy books because computers tell them.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

No, you’re right.

Andy Hunter:

Yeah. That their algorithm tells them to buy a book. I just don’t think that’s the way human psychology works. And so I think it’s really refreshing that Bookshop is filled with personal recommendations. And also it just creates a feeling that you’re on this buzzing hive of book lovers, which gives the customer a sense of personality and community, which they wouldn’t get otherwise.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah. And a lot of listeners are in the marketing and brand field. Lots of them are entrepreneurs. They all struggle with how do I name my business? How do I name my client’s business? You named it Bookshop, which is really bold because on the one hand, I mean, that is as to the point as you can be that you’re one of your tribe and that’s what you do. You put bookshops online and that’s the place. But it’s also tricky, I mean, it’s tricky to own bookshop as a name right. It must be hard to legally protect. It’s hard to use as a standalone without being coupled with the .org. But tell us a little bit about the strategy behind it and how did it work out so far? How is it being embraced?

Andy Hunter:

Yeah, it’s worked out great. My belief is that if you can tell from something’s name, what it is, that thing has an inherent advantage over anything where the name doesn’t tell you what it is. And I saw so many startups in the book space come up with weird names that weren’t recognizable, that often were made up words and they go nowhere. Whereas, I created like my websites, Electric Literature, Literary Hub, you know from hearing those names, what they were going to be about generally. And so Bookshop, it just made sense to have something where not only would everybody know what it’s about, but they would understand it immediately and they could remember it forever. It’s really easy to remember.

So it is true that it’s descriptive. And because it’s descriptive, it cannot be trademarked as a term because we are selling books and we’re a bookshop. The trademark office is not going to let us own the word bookshop forever. We can own Bookshop.org and we can own our logo, but we can’t own the word bookshop. But because we’ve got a lot of people linking to us, we’re almost always number one on Google for bookshop. So it ended up working out great and I’m really happy with that decision.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

So bold.

Andy Hunter:

I wouldn’t go back and do it another way.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah, yeah. Really, really bold. And I love the thinking behind it. And quite frankly, something that you said earlier in the interview where you said that some people were apprehensive. They’re like, oh, my God, it’s digital. Does that mean you’re going to be another Amazon sooner or later? Are you going to sell to Amazon? Well, the name itself implies that you are not going to become a marketplace for anything else. This is about one thing and one thing only, and that’s what you celebrate. So looking back, what was the big breakthrough moment with Bookshop, where you felt like, you know what, this is really going to work. Everyone has this moment. I mean, for you, it might have even been directly or indirectly associated with the pandemic, but was there a moment where you just felt like, wow, this is it. This is a thing now.

Andy Hunter:

Yeah. Well, in the pandemic, I mean, by mid-March we started seeing sales go up. And so I knew that it was going to be embraced as a solution to lockdowns, but that did not mean it would work forever. It just meant that we were going to see a huge rush in sales for a short time period. But by June in the U.S. there were the protests around the murder of George Floyd. And because of the protests, there was a lot of interest in anti-racist books. And there was a lot of interest in supporting black owned businesses. And so black owned bookstores started using Bookshop to create anti-racist reading lists of books by James Baldwin or Ibram Kendi, books that they felt that people who were more interested in anti-racism and Black Lives Matter should know about. And then those lists that they were able to generate with our tools, went viral and started driving hundreds of thousands of dollars in book sales to these tiny little stores.

And the thing about that is that they never could have fulfilled those orders, if those had actually come into the store and it wasn’t for us being able to fulfill the orders for them, they never would have been able to do it. They would’ve been completely overwhelmed. People would’ve had to wait four or five months for those books. It would’ve been a disaster. But the way Bookshop works, we hook up with a wholesaler. The wholesaler actually packs the books and sends them to the customer. So a bookstore can actually sell like 50,000 books off of a viral list, which is what happened in June without actually having to touch a book. They don’t have to go to the post office. They don’t have to buy 50,000 mailers and print out 50,000 mailing labels. That would just be insane. And to get even the cartons and cartons of books from the publisher to repack, they wouldn’t have the space for that, but because of Bookshop, they were able to do that all and not break a sweat.

And some of the businesses got hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra funding because of that. And I just saw how powerful the platform could be, especially lists going viral. I mean, as a publisher, I had seen lists go viral my whole life. Like the 20 best science fiction books ever read, might be a very popular article on a book website, but now they’re monetizable and they can all go to a single bookstore that invents them et cetera. If you search for best graphic novels 2021, right now, the top hit on Google will be a bookstore that created a best graphic novels list on Bookshop.org. Now they’re getting all the traffic and all the sales from that Google search, which is wild. So that’s really when I realized how game changing this could be, is when I realized a small bookstore in Chicago, a neighborhood bookstore, could suddenly be selling books to everybody all over the country at scale without any overhead.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

It’s amazing. I mean, that is really amazing. We talked about how your brand came about. You’re currently in midst of a rebranding, or brand adjustment, or an upgrade, or whatever you’ve want to talk about it. What does branding mean to you? It’s one of these words where a lot of people think, oh, it’s the logo. And some other people think, well, it’s the philosophy and there are a lot of different ways. And in a way, branding, it’s a word that needs to be rebranded. It’s got a pretty bad rap. The brand legacy isn’t so great. What does it mean to you now that you built multiple brands. What does it mean to you as an actual entrepreneur?

Andy Hunter:

Yeah. Well, let’s talk about the bad reputation that the word has. Because I think that if you examine that, it’s because people feel like they’re trying to be tricked by the brand. That a brand might pretend it’s your friend or pretend it’s about sunshine and lying around in a field with your loved ones, but what they’re really doing is poisoning the environment, or using exploitive labor, and it’s like all of indictment of capitalism. And that branding itself is like advertising just a manipulation. And so that’s, I think, the reason that people can get the heebie-jeebies because they’re like, well, okay, Coca-Cola might mean happiness, but what is the behavior of Coca-Cola Corporation and is it up to my moral standards? And I don’t know if it is or not. I’m not saying anything bad about Coke, because I haven’t done the research. But in general I think there’s skepticism about consumers, about if brands are really what they pretend to be.

So for me, branding is all about authenticity and it’s about trust. It’s about making sure our customers can trust us. Because we are a socially conscious brand, our appeal is you’re doing something good by shopping at us instead of on Amazon. You would probably get the book for the same price or less if you shopped it on Amazon. You could probably get it really quickly. Amazon is really hard to beat on price and efficiency. So why are you shopping at Bookshop? Well, you’re shopping because we have values. And so branding for us overall is to inspire a trust and make sure that people understand our mission and feel like our mission is aligned with their values. So that’s the overall goal.

And then I would say my secondary goal with it, is that it’s fun. Like Bookshop, I don’t think we’re all the way there. And with the next round of branding, it’s going to be even more fun. But I don’t think that you win the internet by being like health food. I don’t think you win the internet just by saying like, I’m the good thing to do. You should do this because it’s the right thing to do. I think people on the internet like cat videos and they like to have fun and they have amygdalas in their brains that need to be tickled with all kinds of endorphins in order for them to repeat a behavior. And so I’m trying to make Bookshop a fun place to be.

There’s a lot of white space. The buttons are bright pink and it’s not stuffy. The lists are fun and it’s going to get more fun with the branding. I want it to be like, I love this place because they do the right thing and it’s in line with my values. But also, I just have more fun shopping there than I do anywhere else.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And you like hanging out there. Exactly.

Andy Hunter:

Yeah. I like being there.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And that’s different from Amazon too. So it’s also a competitive advantage if you add towards that. Because people don’t go to Amazon, they’re like, oh, I love being here. This is a great community.

Andy Hunter:

Yeah. Exactly. Yes, that’s right.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And, now that you just told us about what’s at the heart of your brand. What is that if you would be able to put it in one or two words, I know I put you on the spot here, I call it the brand DNA. What is one or two words or like a phrase where you feel like this is, at the end of the day, if you put the entire brand, everything we talked about, the two-sided marketplace, all of this through a funnel, what comes out?

Andy Hunter:

Yes. I’m going to go with socially conscious and I’ll tell you why. There are a lot of socially conscious brands out there. So it’s not unique to us. But again, if somebody’s buying from Bookshop instead of Target, Target sells books, they could be buying books on Amazon. Why are they doing it from us? Well, they’re doing it because they’re socially conscious people, because they want to support a local business, because they care about supporting writers and authors and bookstores and the culture that they love in a way that gives back. And that kind of socially conscious mindset is going to drive all the customers to us. And that’s the only competitive advantage we have, besides maybe the delight that I’m going we’re going to try to emphasize. But I think that in the end, why shop at Bookshop instead of Amazon? The answer is always going to be because it aligns with my values. It’s socially conscious. And so that’s why I go-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Because you care, right. That’s why you do it.

Andy Hunter:

Yeah, we care. Absolutely. I was just going to say, when I was trying to raise money for Bookshop, it took me so long to raise money and I was trying to raise 1.2 million, which might seem like a lot of money if you never had to raise money before. But if you’re a startup and you’re trying to beat Amazon, 1.2 million is not a lot of money. But I wasn’t even able to raise that. I ended up raising about 60% of that because every investor, when they found out we were competing with Amazon were like-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Oh, forget about it. The eye rolls. Oh, all the way. Of course

Andy Hunter:

Go home.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah. If you can’t ship overnight, if you’re not like Amazon Prime, why even bother?

Andy Hunter:

Yeah. And there’s a kind of cynicism about that. Because they’re saying the only thing that matters to people is price and efficiency. But that’s not true.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

It’s not all true.

Andy Hunter:

There’s certainly a segment of the market that cares about more than that.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

I totally agree with you. And I also agree with everything you said about branding, that it’s about authenticity and trust, and it’s not like advertising where it’s like, Joe camel selling the cigarettes. I mean things have changed and people’s values have changed. What’s next for the Bookshop brand? What are you excited about in the next six months? I know you said that you are continuously working on the branding and on the site, you’re expanding internationally, but now you’re like putting it on a hold to really look more inwards and to really optimize the brand.

Andy Hunter:

Yes. Okay. Well, broadly I want to be the best place to buy a book on the internet. I just want the best experience. I want you to be able to, if you’re looking for kids books, you should be able to flip the first few pages in an interactive fun way. You should be able to flip through a cookbook on our interface. I want to be able to have user reviews. I want to be able to have some of your personality there. And so customers feel great when they’re there. So the best place on the internet to buy a book. And then on the other side of that coin is I want to be the best place on the internet to sell a book. If you are a retailer that sells books, and you have to be a bookstore, because we only let bookstores sell books on our platform as book retailers. We do allow affiliates of all kinds to sell books on our platform. But for bookstores, I want us to be the best platform.

I want us to be better than Shopify, better than putting up a Squarespace site, better than any other option so that when they go to their dashboard and they arrange their product, they feel like first of all, they’re expressing their brand personality there, that they’re able to. And that they understand what’s going on, that they have the tools that they need to sell effectively online. And so that we can help them capture more market share. I mean, ultimately, I want independent bookstores to own at least 5% of the book market in the U.S., the online book market in the U.S. And right now they’re hovering at maybe 1 or 2%. And so giving them the tools they need to succeed is really important too. So the best place to sell a book on the internet, the best place to buy a book on the internet, I think that’s enough. That’s a lot of work.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

That’s a lot of work. Yeah.

Andy Hunter:

Well, that’s where we’re going to be going in the next couple years.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Well, you know what they say, you have to manifest it publicly in order for you to be held accountable. So here you are on the air it’s going to happen. Perfect. Well, now that we’re coming slowly to an end here, how can people follow you personally or get to know Bookshop.org? I guess, I just answered the Bookshop.org part.

Andy Hunter:

Yeah. Visit Bookshop.org. There are social links in the footer that you can follow. If you want to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, we’ve got a great team doing our social media and give you great book recommendations and that kind of thing. I have a Twitter, which I use intermittently, but I’m not hugely on social media, but if you wanted to follow me, you could follow me @AndyHunter777 on Twitter.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Perfect. Fantastic. Well, Andy, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy days these days, congratulations on everything that you accomplished. Thank you for having Bookshop.org for actually doing that and going through the late nights and early mornings with your team to make this a reality. I think as an author, that is something that is very dear to me to be able to allow people to actually buy my books from local stores, and support them, and keep that entire community afloat, and celebrate it and make them succeed. So, thank you again for everything and it was a great pleasure having you.

Andy Hunter:

Yeah, thanks a lot. I had a great time.


0 COMMENTS

Add a Comment


*

(never displayed)