Penguin is taking on Amazon

By on May 12, 2014

My Independent Bookshop, the new social network by Penguin Random House, has been described as a ‘shot in the arm’ for independent booksellers. Is the industry reading too much into its launch?

It’s been a hellish decade for independent bookstores. Against cut-throat competition from supermarkets, Amazon, and ebooks, more than 500 independent outlets have closed down since 2005 in the UK alone.

Penguin Random House, the world’s largest publisher, has today swooped in to support this dwindling band of high-street traders with the launch of My Independent Bookshop.

The website encourages book lovers to set up their own virtual stores, where they can showcase and review their favourite books and check out what other people are reading. Crucially, you can buy books from the site, with a small proportion of takings going to support scores of local independent book stores.

Around 70 independent retailers are connected to the site so far, and authors including Irvine Welsh, Tony Parsons, Alastair Campbell, and Terry Pratchett have already set up their own bookshop profiles (Pratchett recommends Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy by Douglas Adams, in case you’re interested.)

For now, this isn’t a money-making scheme for Penguin Random House. According to Dan Franklin, the company’s digital publisher, it’s all about collecting valuable data: “We can see what’s trending, what books are popular and how people are interacting.”

Is this the lifeline that independent book stores so badly need? No. The number of printed books sold dropped by 9.8 percent last year to 184 million, according to analysts at Nielsen BookScan. Selling physical books is no easy feat and it’s going to take more than a social networking site to reverse the industry’s fortunes.

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