This Melbourne Bookstore Is On A Mission To Diversify Your Bookshelf

Amplify is an online bookstore specialising in BIPOC authors, acting as a one stop shop where all readers can easily diversify their bookshelves.

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

The publishing industry’s relationship with diversity is not a healthy one.

People of colour working in the industry have spoken of the hardships they have faced in a workplace where diversity is treated like a trend. Writers of colour have revealed pay discrepancies between them and their white peers. And industry professionals have called for more diverse editors, because white editors have acted as gatekeepers of this space.

Marina Sano and Jing Xuan Teo, two Masters of Publishing and Communications students originally from Singapore and now residing in Melbourne, saw this problem.

“Diversity has been a hot topic for years, but somehow it still hasn’t fully reached the publishing industry. We talk about how important it is to have representation on screen but often, we forget how it’s equally important to have representation on the page. We’ve definitely seen an increase in demand for anti-racist books, and at the same time, readers have been asking why there’s so little representation in literature — or if there is representation, why it’s so bad.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Amplify Bookstore (@amplifybookstore)

Originally they wanted to start a BIPOC only publishing house, but they didn’t have much experience in book publishing and decided a bookstore would be a better starting off point. And so, Amplify was born.

Amplify launched on the 12th of November and is an online bookstore specialising in BIPOC authors. Though it’s designed to make BIPOC feel represented, Marina and Xuan are both clear that the shop is not just for BIPOC customers. They intend to make these books widely available to everyone, acting as a one stop shop where readers can easily diversify their bookshelves.

They’ve both experienced how hard it can be even if you’re committed to the idea of reading more diverse authors, to find their books in the first place. Xuan recalled how earlier this year she made a commitment to read more books by authors of colour:

“Since bookstores were closed, I had to shop online. It was during this time that it finally dawned on me how difficult they were to find. I was specifically looking for a sci-fi novel and could not find a single one by a BIPOC author.”

Marina recalls her own moment of realisation a year ago: “I was trying to put together a mixed race reading list for a magazine I was working at and realised I’d never read any books by a mixed race author or featuring a mixed raced protagonist, and honestly that shook me to my core. Being a mixed race gal, it’s hard finding any media that has stories reflecting my family or my experiences. I’m not special in this regard though — it’s not just mixed folks, it’s basically anyone who’s not white who’s having this issue. It’s crazy to think about how we’ve all just accepted that everyone relates to the stories by white authors of white characters.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Amplify Bookstore (@amplifybookstore)

The case for publishing more diverse voices in Australia is becoming more and more self-evident. With bestselling authors like Benjamin Law, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Behrouz Boochani, to name a few, it’s clear there are countless stories of diverse communities just waiting to be given a chance to be told.

Marina and Xuan say the problematic — and untrue — sentiment that diverse books don’t sell still exists in the industry. “We’ve seen many books by BIPOC authors do incredibly well, and yet the industry is slow to accept that there is value in BIPOC voices. With Amplify, we want to prove them wrong, and show that BIPOC books do sell if you give them a platform to shine.”

But starting a bookstore, during a global pandemic, hasn’t been easy. They described it as “both a blessing and a curse”.

“Not being able to leave the house meant that we had lots of time to dedicate to starting up Amplify. With everyone working from home, it was also really easy to set up Zoom meetings with industry professionals who gave us many words of advice along the way. However, not being able to meet up in person meant that Marina ended up doing a lot of the heavy lifting with deliveries. Everything also slowed down so we had several issues with suppliers along the way.”

And both being masters students, getting a bookstore of the ground financially has presented it’s own challenges. They pointed to the support of Marina’s dad who believed in Amplify and gave them a loan — “we’ll repay him! Dad, I swear!” — which they supplemented with a personal loan to get things off the ground. “We’re looking into getting grants for our next round of financing. Neither of us have a commerce degree so figuring out our finances and accounting has definitely been a challenge, but we’ve had a lot of help along the way.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Amplify Bookstore (@amplifybookstore)

Due to this, Amplify’s collection is small, but very well-rounded. They’ve got everything from thrillers, to cookbooks, and anthologies, and feature authors from across the globe. If there’s a particular region of the world you are drawn to, or haven’t read much from, they’ve got region boxes for $75 which come with 3 books designed to give you a taste of books from that place.

If you have trouble deciding (like me) you can go for the Supercut box which is $85 and curated just for you. How does it work? You fill out a survey answering questions about what you like when you order, and Marina and Xuan will pick out books they think you’ll love.

If this all sounds a bit out of your price range, there is also a pre-loved section of second-hand books by BIPOC authors starting from $8.

And some feel-good news for when you put your order through: Amplify uses carbon-offset domestic shipping, and packaging made from recycled or sustainable materials. Every packaging component is compostable or recyclable.

You can shop Amplify here, and follow them on Instagram here.