That's where Seattle online retailer Libro.fm comes in. Libro.fm is an independent retailer of audiobooks that partners with indie bookstores, giving them a cut of the profit from every sale. Not so long ago, Libro.fm also launched a membership program allowing customers to download one audiobook per month for free and offering a deep discount on any other audiobook purchases.
Earlier this month, Libro.fm launched another new online tool that makes it easier to buy books from indie bookstores online. It's called Bookstore Link, and I provided a little tutorial about the free service earlier this month. It's a way to link directly to indie bookstores on social media and other online sites, including a straightforward way to link directly to the indie bookstore of your choice.
Last week, I talked with Libro.fm co-founder and CEO Mark Pearson about Libro's fight against Amazon, their vision for Bookstore Link, and how the company does so much with a tiny staff.
For someone who isn't familiar, what are you doing with Libro.fm? What's with your company's philosophy around supporting indie booksellers?
Our mission is super-focused on getting more people to read books, and supporting local bookstores to make that happen. That's why Libro.fm exists. And the problem is that the average bookstore in the US has revenue of $1.2 million, but they only have a net profit of $10,000 — so every single book and audio book sale counts.
And at the same time, we have Amazon in our backyard, and that counts for more than 50% of all the print books sold in the US every year. We want to do something about that — we want local bookstores to survive and thrive.
We built Bookstore Link to drive traffic to local bookstores instead of Amazon. It went live on January 8th. It's an easy way for authors and publishers and influencers to share a single link to a print and audio book across 900 bookstores.
It's easy to use — very intuitive. How has the reception been since you launched?
The reception has been great. We're thrilled, and it's just the beginning. We have some more plans for Bookstore Link and basically anything we can do to help bookstores.
It seems like you've been working on it for a while.
Yeah, absolutely. Bookstore Link required a tremendous amount of work. Libro.fm is a platform, and it's been six years in the making to build this platform so that we have more than 14 million print books and 125,000 audio books and 900 bookstore partners that we work with one-on-one. We are in close contact with more than 6,000 booksellers and they are a key part of what we do. So you're right — it was not built overnight. It's the product of many years and investing in bookstores and in our technology.
I wonder if you could talk about how you see this living in the same spaces as IndieBound, which provides links to indie bookstores.
IndieBound has a wonderful history and it's a great discovery website. Booksellers make recommendations that go on the Indie Next list, and there's nothing better than bookseller making a recommendation instead of an algorithm. But the process for one of your readers on [the Seattle Review of Books] is to go from IndieBound to find a local book site to make a purchase is not easy, and it only works on U.S. bookstores. So we've simplified the process for an author, publisher, influencer — we don't have to have detailed book information. All we do, and there's a lot under the hood, is to connect the reader to their local bookstore and make a purchase. That's what we heard from authors and publishers who want to help bookstores, and that's what we've done.
It seems like 90% of the work with online sales is ease of use. Jeff Bezos understands that with Amazon, and this seems like an easy way to direct people to better behaviors.
Exactly. I talk a lot about the three C's — what bookstores do better than Amazon is the curation and the community. Booksellers are the best in making recommendations, right? They're also the best at playing a meaningful role in their community. You don't think about Amazon and community — it's not a word that comes to mind. You think about Amazon destroying communities.
But the piece that Amazon does a good job with is the convenience. It's simple to order. Now that's the role Libro.fm plays in competing with Amazon, is we are making it more convenient through our platform for readers, for listeners who like and value bookstores to support them. That's why seventy percent of all our Libro.fm members come from Amazon's Audible. They cancel their accounts at Audible and they decide to support the local bookstore.
Because we deliver on those three Cs: the curation, the community, and it's convenient.
The remarkable thing is you have fewer than 10 staffers, right?
That's right. We have a team of seven people, but in some ways it feels like we are a larger company, because we work closely with 6,000 booksellers across 900 bookstores. So they are on the front lines, selling audio books and memberships.
The app and the online interface for Libro.fm and Bookstore Link are all so slick that I did not expect that from such a small staff, honestly. I thought you were a lot bigger. It's just very impressive.
Well, thank you. And yeah, our goal is to be the great marketing and tech partnership of bookstores. We take the products that we launch seriously, and we're just getting started.