New E-Commerce Site Hive Strikes Unusual Partnership With Indie Bookstores

Do you love your independent bookstore so much that you’d order a book online and then drive to the store to pick it up? Hive, a new website from UK wholesaler Gardners Books, hopes you do. The site, whose tagline is “Shop locally online,” sells books directly to consumers online, while aiming to get more people into independent bookstores.

While many individual retailers, like Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) and Home Depot, have experimented with online ordering and in-store pickup, Hive is unique because Gardners is selling the books directly but making local bookstores intermediaries in the process and rewarding them for their participation.

Hive explained to us how its bookseller rewards program works. All rewards are received in the form of Garners credit automatically posted to the store’s Gardners account. When a user orders a book, DVD, or stationery on Hive and opts to pick it up at his or her local independent bookstore, the participating bookstore receives a percentage of the net proceeds from the sale: a rate of 10 to 25 percent on trade books, 5 to 15 percent on other titles (like textbooks), and 5 percent on stationery and DVDs.

If a user chooses to have the item delivered at home instead, the independent bookstore nearest to that customer’s ZIP code receives 5 percent of the net proceeds on books and 3 percent on DVDs and stationery. Users pay shipping on orders under £15.

Users can also buy e-books through Hive. The independent bookseller closest to the e-book buyer’s ZIP code receives 3 percent of net proceeds on those sales. Each bookseller who partners with Hive gets its own Hive page where it can post store hours, news and in-store events.

No book wholesaler in the United States has launched a profit-sharing program similar to Hive. IndieBound, an initiative from the American Booksellers Association, aims to bring together local businesses of all kinds (not just bookstores) and consumers. Users can’t buy books directly from the IndieBound website, but they can search for titles there and then click through to buy them online from the nearest independent bookstore.

IndieBound says that initiatives to encourage people to buy local pay off: It reported this year that independent retailers in “buy local” communities saw a 5.2 percent increase in holiday sales in 2010, while those elsewhere saw just a 0.8 percent increase.
IndieBound UK launched last year.