Emily Books: An Indi(E) Bookstore Enters the Online Jungle

Ruth Curry and Emily Gould of Emily Books

Emily Books, founded by Emily Gould and Ruth Curry in 2011, is an independent e-bookstore that offers consumers a chance to take advantage of the ease of online purchasing without having to sacrifice the interactive and community-oriented aspect of visiting a local bookstore. So, basically, you can not only say fuck you to Amazon but can also stay connected to an actual lit scene while still getting to read on your iPad. It’s kind of a brilliant way to not compromise, and what are we all trying to do each day but not compromise? But who would have suspected that there was room in the online bookstore world for a David to Amazon’s Goliath? Not me. Or, at least, I guess that’s what separates entrepreneurs from the rest of us. They have ideas, then they make those ideas real, and, finally, everyone else gets to benefit. I’m super into this model of business, especially when it means getting to flip off Amazon, which, more on that later.

I spoke with Emily Gould not long ago about her experience as a Brooklyn entrepreneur and how she sees Emily Books developing in the future.

When did you and Ruth start Emily Books?

We had the idea in the summer of 2011, but it was a very vague idea — basically, we wanted to start an online bookstore that sold ebooks truly idependently, without Google or iBooks or Amazon as a middleman. All we knew was that our appeal would have to be expert curation. So we just thought we’d pick books we loved that not enough people knew about. We didn’t know our project would have a radical, activist, feminist streak until we’d been in business a few months, when it became clear that we were building a utopian alternate-universe bestseller list — a a syllabus for readers who are curious about the best transgressive, funny, gripping memoir and fiction written by every kind of person other than heterosexual men.

What was behind your decision to start an ebook store? And, also, please explain what makes Emily Books so singular in its mission and practice.

We decided to start an ebookstore because we had both, after what seemed to us like a long period of resistance, just started reading ebooks. We loved the instant gratification of downloading the book you need THAT SECOND and having it available anyplace, but we actually weren’t that impressed by the selection that Amazon and Google books and the iBookstore had. It was hard to find some of the books we wanted to read — they either weren’t available as ebooks, or there wasn’t a centralized place to buy them. And we didn’t like that we had basically no choice but to support big behemoths instead of our neighborhood bookstores.

Now, a year later, that situation is improving slightly, and it looks like there are more innovations on the way, thanks to Kobo partnering with independent bookstores. But we’re still the only e-indie that offers a subscription model — a way for readers to automatically receive monthly ebook picks, via email. And we flatter ourselves, of course, that we are able to offer a really singular selection. Ruth and I are constantly reading. We probably each read between two and five books per week that we’re considering for the store (in addition to whatever else we’re reading!) We tell our customers that “we read a lot of books so you get to only read great books.”