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CityShelf Makes It More Difficult For People To Skip Amazon And Buy At Indie Bookstores

221136811_d9c49605ac_m[1]Beit on Amazon or their own sites, indie bookstores have long been able to list their stock online and find new customers, but that hasn’t stopped some from finding new and less convenient ways for readers to search local bookstores.

Fast Company just posted a story on CityShelf, a new search engine:

The project, launched in December, is a combined search tool for eight of New York’s indie bookstores. Users can see which stores currently have the book they want on their shelves and compare prices. Its aim is to draw in more customers who are already out to buy a particular book, supplementing the hordes who fill busy stores like The Strand for a fun afternoon of browsing.

"Indies don’t need to be saved. They are doing a great job on their own. Hopefully CityShelf can augment that and bring them more business," says Ben Purkert, a poet with a day job, who created the site with fellow poet and technologist Eric Weinstein, designer Liz Oh, and product designer Javier Lopez.

Of the 8 stores, 5 are located in Manhattan while the other 3 are located just across the East River in Brooklyn and Queens.


Apparently, the site works like this: Readers think of a book they want, and then spend $5 and an hour’s time getting the book from a Manhattan bookstore. Or if they can’t find it locally, they go find it online from another seller.

So here’s a question for you: Why not just skip to the second option and save time and money?

I’m all for shopping at and supporting indie retailers, but as I pointed out in July when I covered one attempt to reinvent the bookstore, the first thing that has to be reinvented is the business model.

Bookstores need to go where the customers are – online. They need to sell on the sites where customers are already congregating, and that’s not going to be a little artisanal search engine like CityShelf:

As more users visit (so far there are about 1,000 consistent users) …

While this site might help connect those eight indie bookstores to local customers, it won’t do anything to help the bookstores sell to customers who don’t live in NYC. And that means that the bookstores are missing out on a lot of potential revenue.

image by luisvilla

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Jim Self January 26, 2015 um 8:54 pm

Well, I guess I agree. I still think it’s a pretty good idea. If they’re on Amazon, they’re getting those customers. To capture the crowd suffering from paper fetishism and acute ADS, they can tout their "indie" artisinal search engine and scoop up that revenue, too.

It’s definitely a site that serves a region, but that’s fine. That region happens to have the most customers and cash on hand in the US.

Nate Hoffelder, The Digital Reader January 26, 2015 um 9:16 pm

"To capture the crowd suffering from paper fetishism and acute ADS, they can tout their “indie” artisinal search engine and scoop up that revenue, too."

I did not allow myself to go beyond using the word artisanal, but you did capture this midwesterner’s feelings toward that aspect of city culture.

Paracitarme » Blog Archive » CityShelf, una mano amigable hacia las librerías independientes March 2, 2015 um 1:28 pm

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