Saturday, April 11, 2020

Support network

As the old saying has it, necessity is the mother of invention. Everywhere you look, the coronavirus crisis has given birth to new community groups, new online spaces, new ways of working, new business models, new channels for performing/disseminating and consuming cultural activities. Sometimes these are clearly only temporary arrangements - hastily established and makeshift, working well enough to get by until a semblance of normality returns. However, others were things arguably needed before the pandemic hit but accelerated by its arrival.

Take Bookshop, for instance: a US-based online platform explicitly set up to support independent bookshops and booksellers rather than to crush them out of existence (hello, Amazon). The idea, essentially, is that the responsibility for processing online sales is outsourced, with copies going straight from a wholesaler to customers. Indies benefit by not having to have a smart, comprehensive website, through reduced inventory costs and through staff not having to spend time processing and packaging orders themselves.

That said, it's worth pondering whether Bookshop rather misses the point of why people choose to buy independent in the first place. When I ordered a copy of Ben Myers' The Offing from Mainstreet Books recently, I very much enjoyed the quality of service, the personal touch and the feeling of supporting a business in the most direct way possible - things that (you would imagine) might be lost if indies were all to jump into bed with Bookshop and rely on centralised processing and distribution.

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