The Hive and your online independent bookshop

I commented briefly yesterday on the research from the IDM, that indicated Amazon had an 80% share of the online book market, and drew attention to the difficulty that established bricks and mortar retailers have competing in this space.

This got me to thinking about The Hive, the new website that Gardners launched last month.  Similar to IndieBound in the US (the press release states), The Hive will support an affiliated network of indie bookstores, enabling customers to make a purchase through the website, and collect their book from the indie store, with profits being shared between Gardners and the retailer.  The story is carried in the Bookseller here.

I’m not convinced about customers coming into store to pick up their internet purchase – there have been a number of attempts to make stores into collection points as online shopping has grown, but few have amounted to much.  Critics are also concerned that Gardners would acquire the details of each indie’s customer base, and would be able to market to them direct, and hypothetically this might be the case.

However, I do think there is an opportunity here, though it is dependent on Gardners being able to price-match Amazon and the supermarket websites as effectively as possible, and on the ingenuity of the bookstores themselves.

Indie websites – particularly the commercial, white-label element of them – are all too often a trip back to the aesthetics of 1995, with a motley selection of books not best reflecting the nature of the store they represent.  The Hive quite simply looks more professional, more 21st century – which is good for consumer confidence (and with the Gardners machine behind it, there’s little doubt that the customers will get their books).  If indie stores can continue to serve their communities in breadth (individuals, families, schools, business accounts), then one might assume they would have more loyal customers than eg a middle-ranking Waterstone’s.  And if the customer can enjoy other, store-linked benefits as a result of using the indie-affiliated Hive, might a few of them be prepared to forswear Amazon?

There are some big hopes and assumptions here, but internet bookselling, and digital downloading, are both going to continue to grow, at the expense of the physical bookstore.  If Gardners has arrived at a formula that will enable informed customers to link their web buying to their preferred indie, and if the independent store can deliver a professional online service as a result, then this would all be very much to the good.