An Apology

Dear Readers,

My name is Eric Cervini, and I’m a queer historian. I wrote my first book about the US government’s persecution of the LGBTQ+ community in the 1950s and 60s. I’m also the CEO of a new online bookstore called Allstora, which I created alongside our co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, the legendary RuPaul Charles. Over the past few days, there’s been much online discussion about our new platform, so I thought it’d be helpful to share some of the things I’ve learned. I want to take responsibility for our mistakes, and I want to apologize.

In 2022, my partner and I invested our life savings to start an LGBTQ+ bookshop,, in our apartment. We did so in response to two problems. First: the book industry is unfair to authors. If you’re an author with a traditional publisher, when you sell a copy of your book, you typically get only 10% of its retail price. The average full-time author only makes $10,000 per year from their books.

Second, we saw the book bans that were sweeping the country. With queer and trans authors under attack, we wanted to do everything in our power to promote and protect queer literature. So we opened, converted a 22-foot school bus into a traveling queer book fair, and sold over 50,000 LGBTQ+ books in one year. We split our profits with hundreds of authors who joined our author’s program, doubling their earnings from the sale of books on our site.

Then came the opportunity of a lifetime. As in an episode of Gay Shark Tank, we found ourselves pitching RuPaul to invest in our company and join us as co-founder and Chief Creative Officer.

He said yes. And together, we designed a giant, queer-owned marketplace for all knowledge and all stories. We envisioned a bookstore that split its profits with all authors: not just queer and trans storytellers, but also Black, Brown, disabled, neurodiverse, everyone. A place where all the infinite intersections of humanity could find their books, their people. We called it Allstora, a store for all stories.

Ru trusted me, as CEO of Allstora, to execute our vision. I expanded our staff from two to ten full-time employees. We partnered with a book distributor (the same one used by most independent bookshops), which gave us access to millions of  titles. And we developed a subscription model that allowed us to make books affordable to readers, pay our staff a livable wage, and route 100% of profits from members’ book purchases to authors. Our heroic, majority-queer team built a beautiful, innovative site in just two months.

We decided to respond to the book bans with radical inclusivity. If the forces of hate went low, we would go high, refusing to stoop to the level of banning books–any book–from our catalog. As a historian, I understood that even the most hateful of books can have educational value. I knew that to dismantle prejudice, we must examine its illogic. We must study history so as not to repeat it, and we must understand hatred if we are to destroy it. So I directed my team to add all ten million books available for sale in the English language, no matter their contents, to our library.

But therein lay my mistake. I wasn’t, in fact, building a library: free, accessible to all, and funded by a government or university, where the principle of free speech is paramount. Rather, I was building a platform to champion underserved authors and create community around their stories.

I’ve spent the past week listening to customers, RuPaul fans, marginalized authors, and readers who feel betrayed by the inclusion of hate-filled books in our catalog. And through these conversations, I’ve re-learned the difference between a library and a  bookstore. While a library should fulfill its civic duty of making all perspectives, however abhorrent, available to all, the environment I envisioned for Allstora was one that made its guests feel safe. In building that space, I failed.

I’m devastated that I’ve caused Ru’s name to be even loosely associated with hate, and I take full responsibility for the decision to include these books. I’m horrified by the thought of a queer or trans youth accidentally stumbling upon a harmful book on our platform. I confused my duties as an academic and a bookseller, and I brought pain instead of joy into the world. And for that, I am sorry.

In expanding our catalog, we lost what made so special: curation and community. Going forward, we are committed to re-centering these tenets. Our engineers have built a reader-based flagging system that will help us identify and remove the most harmful books. We’ve already removed the titles that visitors have called to our attention, and you can continue to report any instances of hateful material on our site.

In the long-term, we will rely on our community of readers to curate our catalog. We are designing customer surveys, focus groups, and a diverse committee of authors to help us construct a transparent, community-based framework for curating the books on our platform. While other online bookstores will continue selling hate-filled books, Allstora will not. We will be a community, a home, for all.

I hope you will consider joining us. We need your help as we build an experimental, ethical, community-based bookstore–one that promotes and protects authors while paying them fairly–from the ground up. Help us empower authors and cultivate community at a time when our country desperately needs solidarity among artists and marginalized groups.

Once again, I am deeply sorry for making anyone feel unsafe on our platform. As we continue to grow, I’m committed to doing a better job of listening and learning from the communities that we hope to nurture.

With hard work, I hope we can rebuild your trust.


Eric Cervini

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