CityShelf Makes It Easier For People To Skip Amazon And Buy At Indie Book Stores

It’s about as close to Amazon-like levels of convenience as small bookstores could hope to reach.

CityShelf Makes It Easier For People To Skip Amazon And Buy At Indie Book Stores
[Photos: Anastazzo via Shutterstock]

New York City is luckier than most cities–it still has many strong, independent bookstores left, though their numbers are dwindling. None, however, can compete with Amazon’s prices and convenience.


With a new site, CityShelf, a local poet wants to give his favorite haunts a fighting chance.

The project, launched in December, is a combined search tool for eight of New York’s indie bookstores. Users can see which stores currently have the book they want on their shelves and compare prices. Its aim is to draw in more customers who are already out to buy a particular book, supplementing the hordes who fill busy stores like The Strand for a fun afternoon of browsing.

“Indies don’t need to be saved. They are doing a great job on their own. Hopefully CityShelf can augment that and bring them more business,” says Ben Purkert, a poet with a day job, who created the site with fellow poet and technologist Eric Weinstein, designer Liz Oh, and product designer Javier Lopez.

Amazon is always going to be more convenient, if that’s all someone cares about, he says. But CityShelf makes it easier for people who would really like to support New York’s book shops.

For now, CityShelf, which is designed to be used on smartphones, only lists bookstores that already have their inventory online, but Purkert hopes as the the site catches on, other bookstores will be interested in working with them to be listed. Eventually, he’d like to expand to other U.S. cities with thriving book cultures.

As more users visit (so far there are about 1,000 consistent users), he hopes the geolocation data CityShelf collects could also prove valuable to the stores themselves, who might be interested in knowing if many people are searching for a particular book in their area.


The team hopes CityShelf spreads by word-of-mouth. “This isn’t a venture capital-backed project. This is just bootstrapping it and putting in time on weekends to do something we’re passionate about,” Purkert says.

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.