Booksellers Association Experiments With Selling Books Online

The American Booksellers Association, a trade group that represents independent booksellers, is dipping its toe into Amazon's territory by allowing consumers to directly purchase books through its Indiebound website. Thus far, the experiment has received mixed reviews.

The association that represents indie booksellers wants to see if there’s a role for its offline members in the online world., a product of the American Booksellers Association (ABA), is releasing new features as part of a six-month test meant to drive greater success for its member bookstores.

With the test, the association hopes to give shoppers more flexibility while offering bookstores higher visibility. Not everyone’s impressed, however.

Shop Till You Drop

With the addition of the site’s “Buy Now” button, introduced last month, online shoppers will be able to purchase unique books from ABA booksellers. The goal of the shopping process, however, is to draw stronger attention to independent booksellers: Throughout the purchasing process, buyers will receive information about bookstores nearby.

“A primary goal of the test,” ABA’s CEO Oren Teicher wrote to all IndieCommerce stores, “is to see if—after a successful, one-time purchase on—these customers can be brought into the indie channel as return buyers at their local bookstores.”

Prior to the launch of the “Buy Now” feature, the IndieBound website had no option for purchasing books online, instead pushing website users to purchase books through individual member stores. The site’s “Shop Local” choice for shopping by ZIP code is still available for use.

Indie Amazon?

ABA emphasizes that its goal with the test is to strengthen customer experience and develop support for indie bookstores, not build revenue.

“Very few customers who arrive at take the extra steps necessary on the site to find an IndieCommerce website, and, as a result, they are leaving the community of independent bookstores empty-handed,” Teicher said in his email to IndieCommerce stores.

“These potential book buyers don’t yet have a local favorite indie,” he added. “To reverse the trend, and to encourage these new customers to shop indie more frequently, the ABA Board has authorized this test.”

The changes came after complaints from regional bookseller groups. Back in August, the boards of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association and the New England Independent Booksellers Associations said the site was “at least a decade behind other online sites.”

Even with the changes, criticism persists, however.

“If this is the ABA’s idea of how to compete with Amazon, no wonder Amazon is winning,” Nate Hoffelder wrote at The Digital Reader. Among his complaints were the high prices, the poor design, and the lack of links to other shopping options—even those of direct partners.

No matter the criticism, ABA will take its time with the experiment. After six months, the association will look at book sales and customer traffic—both online and at physical stores—and decide whether further changes are needed.


Patrick deHahn

By Patrick deHahn

Patrick deHahn is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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