We’re always interested when people find innovative ways to link readers to independent bookshops. Hive, an Amazon-like website for indie bookshops, is a favourite, and the recent Ooovre crowdfunding project showed what might be possible if the tech world and booksellers work together.
Continuing that train of thought, here’s an interview with Nick Brackenbury, one of the co-founders of NearSt, an app with the aim of “helping you find books nearby”.
What’s the basic idea behind NearSt?
NearSt is all about getting people back into their local shops, starting with bookshops.
We’ve built an app that lets you search for a book you want, see which shop has it on their shelves nearby in real time, and reserve it for collection in-store in just a few taps.
We believe that shopping locally should be even easier than shopping online, and our app makes that a reality. We’re starting with bookshops, before moving into lots of other product types early in 2016.
Any timeline for the Android release of the app?
We’ll be releasing a web version of NearSt that will work on Android, Desktop, as well as iPhone in early 2016 followed by a native Android app in the summer.
Why did you found the company?
We’re a team of three co-founders, and saw that local shops had so much to offer our high streets and communities, but were being badly hurt by the rise of online shopping.
When you have a choice between getting something you want in just a few clicks, or hunting through directories of local businesses and ringing them up one by one to find out who has what you want, it’s no surprise that most people go for the path of least resistance.
We founded NearSt because we saw an opportunity to make it even easier to shop locally than it is to shop online, and in turn help play a role in making our high streets great again.
After all, who wants to wait and worry about those annoying missed delivery slips and packages getting lost in the office internal-post, when there’s a shop just across the road or on your commute home that has exactly what you want…?
Devil’s advocate: why should independent bookshops survive?
First of all, because we love bookshops. However, there is also a deeper reason why these shops should survive. Bookshops are the heart of the high street and a cornerstone of a local community. If bookshops disappear it would be devastating for local areas. However, if you keep them strong, healthy and use technology to answer the rapidly changing demands of the growing number of digital shoppers, we believe not just the bookshops, but whole communities can thrive.
Do you guys come from a publishing background?
We don’t come from a publishing background, so when we began this project we decided to embark on a tour of bookshops. We spent 8 weeks biking and walking to over 120 bookshops across London, and were both surprised and inspired by the stores we visited. Instead of seeing a downbeat industry defeated by online selling (as is often reported, from all of the bookshop closings over the past few years), we saw confident booksellers who were proud and confident of what they had to offer, innovating in their shops to offer something they know online simply can’t.
This tour and our learnings from the booksellers we met on it were fundamental in shaping NearSt into the platform it is today.
What’s next for NearSt?
We’re focussed on creating the best possible experience for buying books locally over the next few months in London. We’ll soon be adding several more product categories to the app, along with payment and 60-minute delivery within London later in 2016. Our ultimate ambition is to then take this to cities all around the world. We really believe shopping locally should be even easier than buying online, and this is what drives us on our mission to get people back into their local shops. Watch this space!