John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The extremely local, pedal-powered service is meant to “save the Austrian book trade from destruction by big corporations.”
For book lovers who loathe online shopping—or just want to support local businesses rather than a certain conglomerate with a jungle-themed name—there’s an Austrian start-up that offers same-day deliveries via bicycle.
Granted, in its trial form it is an extremely small operation. Lobu, as it’s called, was launched by two high-school students in Vienna, one a self-described Kafka fan and the other a connoisseur of the kind of wisdom only available from erudite, wizened booksellers. The process is simple: Send over a text message with your desired tome (title or ISBN), and one of the students will purchase it from a nearby bookstore and pedal it furiously to your door. If the book’s not available, it will typically be delivered in a day or two.
Lobu’s creators write that they want to “save the Austrian book trade from destruction by big corporations” such as Amazon, which dominates the country’s online book-ordering industry. The free service is now only available in Vienna’s Währing district, but its founders hope to expand it across the city and eventually charge 2 euros to use it. They plan on keeping costs low by building a network of short-distance couriering among all of Vienna’s bookshops.
It’s an ambitious goal, and whether it succeeds will be interesting to watch. While Lobu is built around boosting the city’s dealers, one could argue it has other benefits. There’s cutting down on packaging waste, for instance, as well as minimizing the carbon emissions and traffic linked to online deliveries.