Innovation That Matters

Indie bookstores team up to compete with the major chains

Work & Lifestyle

CityShelf uses a combined search tool to enable consumers to search for books across eight of New York's independent bookstores.

Independent shops have often struggled in the shadow of the large national chain branch down the street. Now of course, those same stores can be brought to their knees by convenient online superstores, with next day delivery.

A recent scheme in Singapore called Be Disloyal encouraged coffee drinkers to swerve the chains and visit eight independent cafes instead. Participants were encouraged to complete a ‘disloyalty card’ by collecting one stamp from each cafe. Once completed, card holders were rewarded with a free coffee. Taking a similar tact in New York, we recently came across CityShelf — a co-operative platform comprised of eight indie bookstores, which, collectively, aim to give Amazon and Barnes and Noble a run for their money.

CityShelf was founded by poet Ben Purket. It enables customers to browse the full catalogues of eight independent New York bookstores — including Astoria in Brooklyn and St Mark’s Bookshop on the Lower East Side — using a combined search tool. Users can then see what is instore where, and compare prices, before heading to one of the local stores to make a purchase.


All the stores already run a successful instore trade, with plentiful browsing customers, but Purket hopes the service can supplement this by appealing to consumers who have a particular purchase in mind — those who might otherwise be drawn in by the online superstore with its warehouse full of inventory.

CityShelf is designed to be used on smartphones and is currently in Beta. The team hope to incorporate more bookstores and expand to other US cities. As the user base expands — it currently has around 1,000 consistent users — CityShelf expects the data collected could also prove useful to the shops who will be able the learn about the searching patterns of the people in their area.

What other potential partnerships could strengthen local independent businesses?



Download PDF