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AP Photo/Steven Senne
Need for speed.
BOOK IT

London bookstores are trying to tempt book lovers with a one-hour delivery service

By Thu-Huong Ha

Speedy door-to-door book delivery is on its way to London.

NearSt (read as “near street”) is a new London-based app that lets anyone in the city order books to their front door, in under an hour. The bike and moped messenger service launched last week (July 13) and so far has monthly active users in the thousands.

The app allows you to search nearly 40 London stores (which include chains like Blackwell and independent stores like West End Lane) for books and buy them for in-store pick-up or have them delivered.

It’s not clear what kind of reader would need a book within one hour, except perhaps one who’s running very late to a kid’s birthday party, but cofounder and CEO Nick Brackenbury is not deterred. “Speed is often possibly a disguise for why people use this type of service,” he says. “The real reason is convenience and stuff being on demand.”

The app also offers provides “almost live” inventory lists from nearby stores. (Delays can reach a few days.) When you call a bookstore to see if they have something in stock, it’s not uncommon to hear “I’ll check the system,” and then “let me check the shelves for you,” and then, “I don’t see it here, sorry about that.” NearSt hopes to make that process more seamless using a back-end that integrates with any inventory system, whether it’s a janky spreadsheet or a robust database.

But the app can’t beat competitor Amazon’s dirt-cheap prices. The US e-commerce giant offers its own one-hour free delivery service, Prime Now. And although Brackenbury claims that NearSt’s selection of 110,000 items dwarf Amazon’s 15,000 available books in London, its prices are higher since bookstores set the rates. And then there’s the added cost of delivery: £5 (or $6.60) extra for one-hour delivery.

And of course, neither service offers the ol’ surprise and delight of actually wandering the stacks of a physical bookstore.