Saturday, June 1, 2019

Will You Open A Bookstore?

 Image result for bookstore images

Three decades ago, independent bookstores felt under siege from chain bookstores.  A decade ago, they felt under attack from Amazon.  But indies have survived mail-order catalogs, online bookstores, and e-books.  Still, it is a challenging thing to open and successfully run an independent bookstore these days.  Amazingly, hundreds of new stores have opened in recent years and the indie bookstore once again flourishes.

Would you ever consider opening a bookstore?

I am surprised that book publishers don’t own and run a certain number of bookstores.  Amazon, which is now a book publisher and retailer, has slowly opened bookstores in some cities and could expand further, making it the rare publisher-retailer.

I came across a book, originally written in 1969 and then updated.  I hold in my hands, courtesy of Strand Bookstore, for five bucks, a 1987 copy of A Manual on Bookselling:  How to Open and Run a Bookstore, Fourth Edition.

The foreword, by Bernard E. Rath, noted one interesting thing about who owns and runs bookstores.  Is it a lover of books who tries to make a living from her passion or a businessman seeking to make money by treating books as a mere commodity?

“Perhaps bookselling allows a person to make a statement while also making a living – if the bookstore is cause-oriented,” writes Robert D. Hule in the preface.  “Maybe it’s because it’s a great way to meet interesting people-not just the well educated and affluent, but people of all backgrounds with every type of need.”

But he cautions; “Loving books is not sufficient justification for becoming a bookseller, though it’s a vital ingredient.  Along with that love must go dedication and energy and patience and fortitude and all the other good things we were brought up to admire.  While we are having fun and being stimulated and enriched, nor must, also pay strict attention to sound business practices.”

In the Successful Bookshop by Frederick G. Melcher, in 1926, the author said: “To be a successful bookseller, one needs an innate, fondness for books, an infinite capacity for pains in handling details, a certain poise and self-confidence which is the basis of selling ability.  Beyond these one must cultivate business ability, for successful bookstore management is based fundamentally on the same principles as any other retail business:  aggressive merchandising and sound financial control.”

So is a bookstore like any other business?  Yes and no.

Certainly, regardless of what’s sold or what mission a store owner may be on, a store adheres to certain metrics of finance.  It needs to be profitable.  It’s not a charity.  A bookstore’s mission may exceed that of making money, but in order to serve that mission, it will need to focus on making a profit, one that doesn’t get ignored to the point a store loses money and can no longer serve its town well.

So what must a store owner consider when opening a bookstore?

1.      Location.  Can you get the foot traffic of those who have the finances, education, and interest/need to buy books? 

2.      Specialty.  Will you focus on a specialty, such as novels, children’s, or rare?  Will you serve the general public in a certain way?

3.      Inventory Management.  Can you buy books cheaply via fire sales, wholesalers, etc.?  Can you return stock without suffering major expenses?

4.      Extras.  What else will you sell, aside from books? 

5.      Competition.  Are you far enough away from other bookstores – or different from their offerings?  How will you keep up with online retailers or other non-bookstores that sell some books?

6.      Lease or Own.  Can you get favorable terms to rent or own a location long-term?

7.      Loans.  Do you have access to a reasonable credit line – for either expansion or to handle the bad times?

8.      Partner/Employees.  Do you want or need them?  What should you look for in either one?

9.      Town Perks.  Are there any tax breaks or partnerships from the town that could help you?

10.  Accounting.  You need to keep the books while selling books. This means you need to be organized in your record-keeping, budgeting, bill-paying, receiving of orders and shipments, etc.

You must also be knowledgeable about:
·         Customer relations and selling
·         Advertising, marketing, and publicity.
·         Networking
·         What’s hot, new, or unique in books today.
·         How to buy books – new, used, or rare -- from others.

Today’s bookstore can be enlisted to inform, change, and inspire a new generation of readers.  But A Manual on Bookselling warned, even back in 1987, against the twin menaces – illiteracy and aliteracy.  It said:

“New technologies are new allies in our national effort to inform and educate Americans.  We must enlist the new technologies with cautious enthusiasm.  The threat to a knowledgeable citizenry is not from new technology.  But there is a threat from our hasty readiness to exaggerate or misconceive the promise of new technologies, which carries the assumption that the culture of the book is a thing of the past.  Today we are failing to do all we should do to qualify young Americans to read and so draw on the main storehouse of our civilization.  We are failing to provide enough access to books.  And we can do much more to increase the motivation to read.

“We must face and defeat the twin menaces of illiteracy and aliteracy – the inability to read and lack of the will to read – if our citizens are to remain free and qualified to govern themselves.  We must aim to abolish illiteracy in the United States before the end of this century.”

Would you want – and be able to – open and run a bookstore?  For some it can be a risky, time-consuming passion project, profit be damned.  For others it’s a business first or only.  Whatever one’s motivation, I’d hope to see more bookstores open up across the country and to bring to the masses the majestic beauty of the written and illustrated word.  Books are something beautiful, something to be used and lived, something to lead us into the light of knowledge and truth.

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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