So Long, Amazon?

A New Service Offers One-Hour Book Delivery or Indie Shop Pick-Up

The Delivery Man, Chris Bird

Forget Amazon drones. A new start-up is promising book delivery within the hour.

The company is called NearSt., and it’s deploying a small army of book-toting scooter and bike messengers around London. Here’s how the service works: choose your book on the company’s site or app, enter your location, then decide whether you want Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You, Don Delillo’s Zero K, or Helen Oyeyemi’s What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours delivered to your doorstep quick as a Domino’s pizza, or whether you’d rather pop down to your local independent bookseller to pick up the book yourself. According to The Guardian, NearSt. is already working with 40 London bookshops, each of which is syncing up internal inventory systems to the site so that customers can be sure that the book they want is close by and ready.

There is no official word if or when NearSt. may link up with American booksellers, but CEO Nick Brackenbury has spoken of his desire for the start-up to expand its product category and its reach: “the ultimate goal [is] having every product in every shop in every high street on the platform at a global scale…we’re very excited by what lies ahead for local commerce, and what we can achieve with local businesses everywhere.” Clearly not hiding his ambition for the platform, Brackenbury has also stated his start-up is “absolutely” out to challenge the likes of Amazon.

So far, the testimonials from booksellers sound pretty glowing. Betsy Tobin, of London bookshop Ink@84, told The Guardian it’s “dead easy: an automated phone call asks you to double-check stock is physically there, then press a button to acknowledge. A very streamlined process. My staff person has just drawn an interesting parallel with Pokémon Go, in that people enjoy using tech to track down a product but also like the physical/social process of going out to get it.”

The resurgence of the independent bookstore has been one of the year’s big literary stories. NearSt. looks to be the latest innovation in the direction away from megastores and online behemoths like Amazon.

The big question now: are tech-savvy independent booksellers going to bring us back from the digital abyss? Led by gaslight (iPhone flashlight), leather-bound parchment (any physical book) in tow, we return to the world…

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