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Links and Resources for Opening a Bookstore

filed under , 29 July 2014, 10:46 by

Links and Resources for Opening a Bookstore
And Some Heart-felt Editorial In Which I Hope To Dissuade You From Opening A Bookstore.

This longish, slightly-rant-y, rambling bit started out as a response to several recent articles on “Reinventing the Bookstore” (initial offender at the link, and other bloggers’ reactions linked at the end of this mess)

The issue I have with using “Design” (no matter how good) to solve the “Problem” of bookstores is that more often than not, the designer *has no clue about how bookstores are run*. You know, basics like inventory, coffee, and what makes books different from other retail to begin with. A Very Pretty Storefront (while nice) does not solve a serious price differential with Amazon, and just adding more “open, positive” space to an already too-small floorplan does not change the fact that booksellers have to stock from seven million unique SKUs and no matter what you choose to carry, customers can easily think of something you won’t have shelved. If one felt particularly gruesome, one might compare the effort of using “Design” to fix Bookstores to using “Fashion” to repair a Gaping Gunshot Wound to the Chest.

A Table of Contents:

This article is not intented to be a white paper or fully-comprehensive treatise on the topic, nor can one use it right out of the box as any kind of business plan. Obviously that would be beyond the scope of a blog post (at least on this blog), and if you are using the internet to just up-and-find a business plan: stop here. Don’t keep reading, don’t open a business of any sort, don’t shove paper clips into electrical outlets, and don’t shove anything up your nose. I mean, I shouldn’t have to tell you not to stick metal into an electrical outlet, but that’s the level of obvious I’m talking about here.

If you need business advice, go to the website and find a mentor. While you’re there, you can also read great articles like “Thinking About Starting a Business?” — and resources on business plans, financing, permits, taxes, licenses, business law and don’t ask in the comments on this post because I’m telling you right now there are better sources for this information.

Specific to the book business, you’ll want to check out the American Booksellers Association — and while you’re writing that business plan and building up your entrepreneurial chops, maybe you should also get a job working at a bookstore for a bit, just to see if it’s the kind of business you want to be in.

There are some things that *aren't* covered in business books and also not immediately obvious [a list of book vendors; using US Census data for market research; rough estimates, like knowing that 1000 linear feet of book shelving will fit on 1000sq.ft. of carpet; etc, etc.] and that is the scope of this blog post.


Want into the book business? Write some paranormal fantasy/romance (paranormal teen fantasy/romance would be even better), put it up on Kindle/Amazon, and Make Millions™* (* actual millions not guaranteed) – Congratulations, you’re now part of the ‘book business’.

Want to sell books, rather than write them? Open a web site, sign up as an Amazon affiliate and start blogging book reviews with Amazon links.

Is that not hands-on, physically-bookish enough for you? Start pulling together a used book collection and become an Amazon third-party seller. If you’re not picky, you could advertise on Craigslist that you’re buying books by the pound – and that you’ll drive out to pick them up. A surprising number of people are looking to offload physical books these days. You don’t even need a store front, though you may need to rent a storage unit.

There might be the minor detail of obtaining a local business license (and web hosting, and tax obligations) but there are options for getting into the book business without getting into the complicated mess of running a book store. Oh – and if my suggestions seem a little Amazon heavy? Deal with it. Learn to live with it. Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. This is our current reality, and no matter how loudly I bang the bars of our collective cage my fellow travellers assure me nothing is wrong with Amazon and we shouldn’t side with our old jailors because the new minimum security world of Amazon lock-in is so much more comfortable.

[To be fair, we’re not *locked* into Amazon in quite the same way that many Publishers’ contracts tie up books (rights are retained by authors, sellers can sell anywhere) but Amazon has the huge customer base — and the customers’ credit card info, and Prime, and One-click — so yeah: Amazon has the customers locked in and if we want access to those customers, we abide by Bezos’ Law and thank him for letting us live there, no matter how meagre the accomodation]

Amazon is all rainbows and unicorn farts and happiness straight from the carton. So I’ll stop talking about how great they are.


So, you want to open a bookstore? Go back four paragraphs, look into the online used bookstore model, and have fun.

…Oh, you wanted to open a neighborhood bookstore? Cute storefront, booklovers on the payroll, quirky selection – local hangout, community fixture, destination and landmark?


No really, please — for your sake, not mine — don’t go there.

Let’s start on the business side: [source, source]

  • 50% of small business fail in the first year. Yes, including yours. Yes, including bookstores.
  • Only 40% of small business are profitable, another 30% manage to break even. The remainder continually lose money.
  • Your overall odds of being a ‘success’, after five years, is only one-in-ten.

What are the major reasons small business fail?

  • Lack of experience
  • Insufficient capital (money)
  • Poor location
  • Poor inventory management
  • Over-investment in fixed assets
  • Poor credit arrangement management
  • Personal use of business funds
  • Unexpected growth

To the Small Business Administrations list, I’ll add: Underestimating the investment of time and effort required, and a failure to recognize the toll this will take on your relationships with friends and family. Even if you’re not hitting them up for money (excuse me, ‘investment’), you’re basically going to disappear for a while because your new business is about to become your everything.

If you just have to open up your own small business: maybe consider a restaurant, rather than retail. The capital required is lower, the demand steadier (we gotta eat, after all) and successful examples to follow are both more numerous and quite widely distributed. You’ll still have a 50% chance of failing your first year, but with a restaurant it’s more likely that you’ll be able to pick up and try again. Going the bookstore route, you may only have one shot.

Even compared to other retail, books are different. Book inventory by its nature is slow-moving, unruly, and byzantine in scope, scale, and complexity. From seven million to twenty million to 129 million books in print — estimates vary but all are huge — a basic fact of the industry is that tons of books already exist and hundreds of thousands more make it to market every year. No matter how complete your inventory or database, it will only be ~2.8 days before a customer comes in and asks for something you don’t have and can’t find. (The book itself may be out of print, may or may not exist, or may be a KDP Select E-only – in any case, an invisible book to bookstores.)

So if we take the absolute vastness of publishing and cross-reference that with reasons small business fail, “Poor Inventory Management” and “Over-investment in Fixed Assets” are huge warning flags that are also pretty much givens for booksellers. You can certainly come back and argue the point – you, smart cookie that you are, have already considered this and your book inventory will be carefully curated and appropriately niche. You have a strong concept, one easily communicated to the shopping public, and your book selection will be focused and will support the store concept.


90% of the books you stock still won’t sell.

Pick a category (for the purposes of this and other examples, I’ll take Romance for 500, Alex) – No matter how fine-grained and focused, you still have bestsellers and media-driven titles, and then, the long tail. Indeed, as much as people like to talk about “The Long Tail” as some sort of internet phenomenon, it’s actually math – and was described as early as 1906. The “long tail” is also fractal – if you look at a data subset (all punk tracks, rather than all MP3s; or romance, as opposed to all books) any small part of the whole still resembles the view from ten thousand feet. In a classic model, the 80-20 rule applies: 80% of your sales comes from just 20% of the stock. Books are worse – The gulf between the Rowlings and Pattersons and ‘the rest’ is broader, and there are fewer spots at the top.

There is a story [likely apocryphal] that dates back to the 1980s and the first round of major media consolidation, when publishers were snapped up by conglomerates who saw books (at the time) as a steady revenue stream and marquee property — I know, silly, right? After completing the buy-out, a group of accountants from the new corporate office would sit down with a group of editors from the old publisher and eventually, talk would come around to the elephant in the room:
Accountant: “Look, you’re publishing close to 1000 books a year, most of those aren’t going to make money, and even of the ones that do more than break even, really only 10 or so are going to be bestsellers.”
Publisher: [*nods*]
Accountant: “…So why don’t we pare back that list, only publish the 100 or so that we know will sell, and really throw some weight behind that top 10. Cut out the dead wood, concentrate on the blockbusters, and make some money here.”
Publisher: [*nods*]
Accountant: “I’m amazed you haven’t even considered this before. How many decades have you been in the book business, again?”
Publisher: “You make a valid point, I suppose — but tell me…”
Accountant: “Yes?”
Publisher: “Out of all these books, a thousand a year, do you know which ten are going to be the bestsellers?” [a question asked with an expertly arched eyebrow, I’m sure.]

The joke stops being funny when you consider what these huge corporate publishers started doing in the 80s: indeed, a lot of effort was put into so-called “known quantities” – advances for top-tier authors skyrocketed, while midlist authors saw their customary advances slowly shrink. Publishers began to acquire fewer books; authors had one shot (or at best, two) to make an impact with readers — if they didn’t sell (or didn’t sell ‘enough’) they’d be dropped by their first publisher and hard pressed to find a second.

That’s just on the production side — booksellers face the same problem, but multipled across the catalogs of every publisher. As a small business owner and book retailer you have to accept this and steel yourself to the reality: You are going to stock books that never sell.

“Why bother, then: Why not just stock the bestsellers?”
Excellent question.

Costco and Walmart do that, and they can discount books lower than you can. Barnes & Noble, for as long as it is in this game, is going to have the bestsellers in stock, in quantity, and at a sale price that just about eats your entire margin. Amazon will always have the bestsellers, and no way in hell can you match the Bezos cut. As an independent bookseller, you can’t play this game. You’ll lose. The bulk of your business is going to be in the Long Tail, the 90% of books you stock that you know you aren’t going to sell.

Does this sound like a paradox, or Catch 22? It should.


If you’re bound and determined to open up a bookshop, even after my warnings, track back a half step and ask yourself why.

Do you like the atmosphere of bookstores? The hard-to-describe bookish-ness of them? Do you want to build a “third place”, to become a hub for social events in your community? Is your primary goal selling stuff — or literacy and letters, plus the coffee and conversation, oh and the occasionally book signing on the side?

News Flash: one can host author signings just about anywhere. Some events do better at a library, pub, coffee shop, or ‘offbeat’ venue, as opposed to the now-bog-standard-and-boring Big Box Bookstore. Even if your goal is selling books, maybe the platform you need is not the local-restroom-reading-library-and-nap-complex, but a retail front that is anything else first and only a ‘bookstore’ second.

[see: 5 Brilliant Bookstore-Bars : Aram Mrjoiam, 2 July 2014, Book Riot]

It takes a surprisingly small footprint to turn a pub or coffee shop into a ‘bookstore’ (sometimes, a single bookcase). Indeed, we can go back five paragraphs, and stock ‘just the bestsellers’ – plus a handful of other choice titles, dependent of course on theme and means. A bookshop-as-add-on is currently the best bookstore model I can recommend.

We can do it even cheaper, in fact: Set up a paperback exchange in your coffee shop – seed the shelves with your own paperback collection (if you can part with them) or buy up lots of them used (see: Craigslist ad mentioned above) and then sell them to customers for a dollar, or offer to trade them with customers two-to-one. So many book lovers are drowning in books, helping them get rid of a couple (plus, they get a new one to read!) is practically offering a community service. Concentrate on mass-market sized cheap paperbacks, spend $100 on a pair of bookcases and maybe another $100 on seed stock and the whole thing practically runs itself — and automatically turns your little gift shop, cafe, or corner store into a bookstore. For coffee shops and friendly pubs, books add to the atmosphere, too — a smart investment even if you never sell them.


“No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” -attributed to Yogi Berra

Why open up a bookstore in the 21st Century? Sure, back in the 1980s there was a definite lack (outside of the shopping mall) of bookstores, but the 1990s brought us not one but two major bookstore chains opening up these huge palaces full of books and coffee and man, that was great. Loved those places. I used to spend all day every Saturday at the bookstore.

“I used to spend all day every Saturday at the bookstore.”
“I used to spend…”
“…used to…”

The oldest Big-Box-Bookstores are barely over two decades old, and already many customers — many of us — talk about them in the past tense like they’ve all closed and the bookstore (like the physical format books they used to sell) are just memories and nostalgia. Borders closed due to over-expansion and mismanagement, but the actual facts of their bankruptcy are immaterial when stacked up against the public perception that all bookstores are going out of business.

The easiest way to combat this misperception is to open up a bookstore that’s not a bookstore — yes, open up a “Great Good Place” (please and thank you!) but flip your business plan around: be a coffee shop or neighborhood pub first, and a bookstore second — maybe host book groups and author events (and do some small, one-off sales of individual titles to support those) without being a ‘bookstore’ at all. If you have a place to sit and free wifi, you’re already filling the role that many currently demand of the bookstore anyway.

Once you’ve established your business, beaten the small-business odds to stay open past your first year (or five), and proven to yourself and others that you can make this work — then maybe you can look at expanding into books: adding bookcases, expanding your first location, or opening up a 2nd branch with even more of a book store focus. But I urge you to beat this level on the easy setting before trying again at harder difficulty.


If you really want to open a ‘bookstore’ Bookstore – you don’t have enough money.

To really compete against Amazon and other retailers, no matter the storefront or venue, I personally think you need to spend at least $10 Million on inventory — twice that would be better. The magic phrase is “Over One Million Titles In Stock” — and yes, you’re going to spend that $20M on books, be a national landmark destination, but the book-inventory-law still applies: 90% of those titles still won’t sell (…this year. Or maybe ever. But ten years from now when someone just has to have a copy of Prof. Halford’s Medieval Farming Techniques and the Evolution of European Plowshare and Moldboard Design (476-1349CE) and you *have* a copy — that’s where the magic is, folks.)

To give you an idea of how much one million titles in stock actually is, imagine about 12 Barnes & Nobles built side by side by side on 6 football fields. That’s not a perfect analogy; 30,000 or so books are common to all B&Ns [source pg. 9 B&N’s 10-K annual report filing with the SEC] and B&Ns can be pretty airy, but the number of bookshelves is about right.) Indeed, the retail ‘big box’ is the wrong model, floorplan, location—dare I say it, concept—for a bookstore — one million titles can actually fit on one city block and if I were to somehow come into possession of $20 Million and a ten acre site the end result would be much more of a book amusement park than a single bookstore. Also, one million titles is a ridiculous number — Amazon’s ‘working inventory’ is [25 million listings, out of which about 10 million titles are physical books (in English), and of those 10M we have to account for out-of-print titles stocked by third-party sellers… so…] likely only 2.5 to 3 million, so as you can see, it’s more like stocking a book distributor than a store — but I’ve maintained for years that if all the books are in the warehouse, hell, we should build a coffee shop in the warehouse and open it to the public. (“book amusement park”)

To be the equal of just the local Big-Box Barnes & Noble, you need at least $1 Million in inventory. And for this back-of-the-envelope calculation, I’m not even considering the money sunk in CDs, DVDs, Board Games, Toys, Gift items, and other assorted crap clogging up your local B&N: books only, 60,000-100,000 units, $1-2 Million Dollars.

A devilish-advocate could come back, “yes but – our store will concentrate on paperbacks, trade or otherwise, and our unit costs will be lower” and that’s fine — A used bookstore might manage to open with 50,000 books for only 50,000 dollars, or less! — but competing against the Big Box isn’t only a matter of dollars. So maybe you spend less than a million on inventory. Now we have to consider linear shelf-feet and square-footage. How big a space are you going to take on? What about the rent? How many books can you stock in your closet?

There are obviously smaller, and still successful, models to consider when opening a bookstore. The qualifier I started with was spending $10M+ “To really compete against Amazon and other retailers”. There are 2,022 members of the American Booksellers Association who offer obvious proof that I’m wrong. It is possible to open up small, friendly bookstores of all types, not just the genre-specific examples below but even general interest bookstores, in big cities and small towns, all across the country an in locations much smaller than your typical big box or warehouse store.

Here, have a few book-store concepts to get the skullgears moving: Books&BrewsLiving MemoryThe Reference DeskThe Last Picture ShowFleet Streetand five more, including The Coffee Table Book Store.

If you only have (or can scrounge) $50,000 – then you can open up a pizza place or burger joint. And you can do well. — But maybe Bookselling isn’t in the cards. (?) (with enough passion, a willingness to learn, a penchant for chatting up anyone who may know something about the book business that you don’t, miserly frugality, luck, and an improving economy: anything is possible. and hell, if you’ve been reading this article up to this point, you may also be an incurable case.)

As is true for any start-up/business:

  • know your market
  • listen to your customers
  • plan and control your inventory
  • market your business
  • keep it simple and focused

To stock fewer books and open on a smaller footprint is actually harder and takes expertise that you don’t have. [yet.]

  • To know a niche so well that you can only stock 15,000 or 1500 titles — and be able to sell them — means being a number-one-super-fan of that genre.
  • The tighter the focus, the smaller the selection, the easier your store will be to stock — and the harder it will be to find customers.
  • You can always offer to order books in, but this puts you in a different no-win situation: either the customers expect you to order at your risk, with no extra cost to them and even, no expectation that they need buy it once they have a chance to look it over – or your customers will say, “Why bother to order it here? I can just get it myself from Amazon.”
  • No matter how well you define and market yourself, even within your chosen genre and niche there will be books you never heard of: “Romance, huh? Do you carry Vampire romance? How about lyncanthropes? or time travelers — well I say time travel but I’m looking for something other than Scottish Highlanders, ya know? Ooo… or Steampunk romance. Or suspense – I love those romances with special agents and stake-outs and shoot-outs and chases…” [*whispers*] “…and, ah, you know those books? the fifty-five shady types?” – and just when you think you’ve stocked everything, Including the scorching romance featuring a Time-travelling Werewolf Royal Agent helping Queen Faerieana fight the Vampire Bondage Airship Pirates — a customer will still be able to blind-side you.
  • No matter how well you define and market yourself, by being a ‘bookstore’, you invite the public to treat you just like Amazon. “Hi, is this the We-Only-Sell-Romance Bookstore? Yeah, before I drive down there, I was wondering which lines of travel guides you carry? Oh, and textbooks – I need a textbook for this one class.” … “You’re a bookstore though, right? That’s how your listed… no need to be rude.” [*click*]

Unrealistic and unreasonable customer expectations are a relatively minor head-ache, of course. Any retailer deals with these, answering questions is routine, and handling a disappointed customer is a basic job skill.
The kicker, though, is that once you’ve failed a customer by not having a book in stock, you’ve reinforced the perception that book stores are ‘going out of business’ and the only real way to buy books is online, specifically from Amazon.

Can you run a small business? Can you run a retail business? On top of that, do you really know books well enough to run a retail book business? And can you raise the money to get started?


I’ve already written a fairly long piece on how to use Zip Codes and Census Data for market research — finding your customers and figuring out where they live. (There are also a couple of articles on my ‘Bookselling Resources‘ page that you may or may not find helpful in narrowing your search for a storefront, after you’ve determined your neighborhood.)


What’s our criteria for a retail location?

Well, I want to be where the people are, and since I’m opening a bookstore I want to be where smart people are (or at least pretentious people who spend money on books because they want to look smart, those are good too), and I’d like to be where the people with money live. Of course I’m speaking in broad generalities, but this information would be good to have, right?

If you want to know about people, ask the Census Bureau. (This is one of the best uses of taxpayer money ever.) Before we tap the CB, though, let’s start with the map:

Head on over to, and let’s plug in our target zip code (61605, Downtown Peoria) — if you don’t happen to know the zip code yet, well, just start clicking the map and scan around until you find your target, which is what I did last night. Zoom out a bit and look at the surrounding zip codes — you might want to start writing these down, actually.

Now, point your browser to and look up each zip code. Easy, right?
…OK, so it’s a mess, and you have no idea where to start. That’s fine, because someone at the Census Bureau has written directions on how to find exactly the information we need, by zip code. Gosh, they’re smart. (and I’ve a feeling someone—a lot of someones—have asked exactly this question before.) This will be a lot of clicking and writing and typing — and if you have the time it’d be 2-3 hours worth of work. And worth it, but still a pain in the ass.

Zip codes are handy because they’re used by a number of independent sources (like the Census Bureau), the post office originally set them up (and continues to maintain them, occasionally adding new ones) so that while not uniform in size or population they fall within manageable ranges for both, and most importantly, every address — and by extension, every real estate listing — has one.

The point I’d like to make is that you don’t have to go in blind: resources are available that will paint a pretty clear picture of where the potential readers are. These numbers will also be awfully nice to have when you walk into the bank, and start asking for money. Market research is a basic necessity for any business, and when you are talking retail, demographics (and real estate) are your market.

[/blockquote] — there’s quite a bit more on the process (including shortcuts) at the full write-up.

If you don’t want to read 2500 words about Peoria, here are the pertinent links to get you off and running:


“Oh look, there are still some shelves and fixtures here leftover from the last retailer who went out of business.”

You are going to spend a lot of money on shelves. Best to shop and scrounge second-hand, rather than buy new. You don’t just pop down to Ikea and load up on Billys and call it a day; for one, buying retail like that (even cheap Ikea stuff) (Billys in multiples aren’t really all that cheap, though) is going to get expensive fast, and what works in a living room likely won’t hold up in retail. That 50%-of-new-business-fail statistic can work in your favor, though — do web searches for going-out-of-business sales and check Craigslist for shelving (and just about anything, really) and of course a Google search for “used retail store fixtures” +[location] will bring up the local dealers who specialize in that sort of thing. (Google is the New Yellow Pages. For you kids out there, there used to be a book with listings by category put out by the phone company—there was only one phone company back then— …you know what? forget I mentioned it)

The fixtures, shelves, and seating for your store are an excellent way to demonstrate your creativity to customers, and communicate the mood or feeling you want your store to convey. That said: the smell of books (beloved as it is) will not always be able to counter the smell of old furniture, especially upholstry. Look for bare wood, and leather, and yes — no matter what it is, make sure it can pass a sniff test.

In a very real sense, the bookstore is nothing but the shelves. The total shelf space (linear shelf feet) determines not only how much inventory you have but how effectively you can sell it. Those beautiful, beautiful tumblr-ready images of bookcases packed top-to-bottom are great for looking at but not always the best way to stock books. Just having a book isn’t quite enough; you can’t sell it if folks can’t find it.

[source: partial Google Image Search results for used bookstore]

Figuring out how many books you can stock is a matter of algebra: # of Bookcases x # of Shelves x length of shelves, divided by the average width of your books (usually a half inch – can be more, mostly a bit less, depends on the genre, and mass-market paperbacks are smaller overall but tend to be thicker in this one dimension). Also, you’ll need to have a space (and ideally, also the shelves) squared away before you should order any books.

Bookcases can vary by height and width; for rough calculations I like to use these imaginary bookcases

1 foot by 3 feet at the base, five shelves, and after accounting for ADA compliance and room to walk around and shop them, you can figure on a minimum of 1000 linear feet of shelving for every 1000sq.ft. of designated retail floor space. You can usually pack shelves more densely vertically, or of course, buy or build them higher than just 5ft. tall.

(the remaining math I leave as an exercise for the student)


In lieu of a proper conclusion (this is a big subject; and my conclusion was in the second line “Some Heart-felt Editorial In Which I Hope To Dissuade You From Opening A Bookstore”) I now present a whole lot of links (see: blog post title, op. cit.).

Indeed, an argument can be made that I’ve been writing this same post for five years — so while I hope this is my last word on the subject, it likely won’t be.

What follows are links to other resources – notably publishers and distributors of books, and where possible, a direct link to a website or phone number for setting up new accounts. (After that are some more random, but hopefully helpful, links.)

There are hundreds of publishers, large and small, but the bulk of the trade is supplied by just a few Really Big Companies. In most cases, you don’t just order books from a vendor, you also apply for credit — books are supplied with payment terms in the range of 90 or so days, and you can get credit to apply toward book shipments in certain situations, usually after returning unsold books back to the publisher.

It can get complicated, and each publisher and distributor has their own terms.

Here’s a partial list to get you started:

Random House *
Penguin *
Simon & Schuster

W.W. Norton
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Baker & Taylor
National Book Network
Perseus *

(* RH and Penguin have merged, but operationally they still function seperately — that may change. Additionally, Hachette has announced a upcoming purchase of Perseus Books Group, which would involve a parallel sale of Perseus Distribution to Ingram. So that may change.)

And on top of individual suppliers, there is the PubEasy service (formerly Bowker’s, currently a division of Nielsen) which centralizes a lot of the ordering process, for those who choose to use it.
Current affiliates [as listed on the PubEasy site] include: Cambridge University Press (, Chicago Distribution Center (, Hachette Book Group (, HarperCollins (, McGraw-Hill Education (, MPS (, Oxford University Press (, Partners/West Books Distributing (, Penguin Group USA (, Random House (, SAGE (, Scholastic (, and Simon & Schuster (

Additionally, dozens of publisher catalogs (150+) can be viewed digitally using the Edelweiss web site, run by Above the Treeline — and that should be more than enough to help you plug any holes not covered by the Big Six and Ingram.

Magazines & Newsstand:
First, Read: After Losing Time Inc. Business, Distributor Is to Close Leslie Kaufman, 30 May 2014, New York Times — Source Interlink, one of the largest national distributors, couldn’t hack it in this business. So you might ask yourself, “Do I enter a failing market segment to lose money but still provide magazines as a sort of ‘customer service’?”

Ingram Periodicals
Diamond Comic Distributors
Links found on Google; I can’t speak to services offered, content mix, reliability, regional availability, customer service, ease of ordering, or fufillment (basically- magazines aren’t my thing) but: TNG (formerly The News Group), Curtis, Kable, and Comag

The only remaining advice I’ll give is, even if a book is returnable to the vendor, when ordering you really should pretend that they’re not. If you’re returning something because you couldn’t sell it, _maybe_ you shouldn’t have ordered it to begin with? Even if you get “100%” of the dollar value back in credit, you’ve spent money on payroll to process the book twice (once in, once out) and that book has been tying up your shelf space in the interim. By all means, order a single copy of anything that looks good — you can add it to the 90% of your stock that doesn’t sell and it becomes part of the store décor and ambiance (and you can try to actively hand sell it) — but before you order a case of a book, even a bestselling author, stop and ask first if you could get by with just a half-order, to start.


Customers, talking about book stores, rarely mention books first — it’s always about the smell of the bookstore. A fraction of that is the vanilla-like smell of books slowly decomposing on shelves, but the majority of that irresistible aroma is of course coffee. Plus, the margins on coffee are usually better than books.

An espresso machine, second hand, is going to cost between $2000 and $5000 – to say nothing of the plumbing, refrigeration, ice machine, blenders, and regular-old coffee makers you’ll need to get a coffee shop up and running. It’s back to Google (“restaurant supply new and used”) to find your local sources and options there.

Additionally, I’d try to find a local coffee roaster to partner with, to source your beans and (possibly) develop custom blends. Very few fan bases are more into “local, sustainable, artisanal” than coffee snobs, so being the neighborhood not-Starbucks can help.

However — sometimes buying a franchise or finding a national supplier can be the better business option
Think Different: – hot dogs and coffee carts; might solve all your cafe needs, plus you can run the hot dog cart as a fall-back after the store goes out of business.
Think Bigger:
Einstein Bros.
Dunkin’ Donuts.
Tim Hortons. – I’m much too far south (currently) to have a Tim Hortons but if I were looking for a way to immediately compete with B&N, Starbucks, and Amazon (all three) then I would want Timmy in my corner.


Other links:

“Third Place”
A return to the Great Good Place :
Rethinking the Box: Before you sign that lease :

Reinventing the Bookstore : Joanna Cabot, 7 July 2014, TeleRead
The Problem of Reinventing the Bookstore : Nate Hoffelder, 6 July 2014, The Digital Reader
How To Redesign Bookstores For The Amazon Era : Shaunacy Ferro, 3 June 2014, FastCompany Design
Let’s Reinvent the Bookshop : Rosanna De Lisle, May/June issue of Intelligent Life Magazine, republished online to the “More Intelligent Life” blog.

American Booksellers Association :
Small Business Administration :
IRS ( : Starting a Business
Internet Public Library ( : Starting a Small Business
American Library Association : Best of the Best Business Websites (annual awards lists)
Library of Congress : Business Reference Services
… And don’t forget your local library, especially if you live in a city and can make it to the ‘main’ library branch
… As well as local community colleges and continuing education programs
… and your local chamber of commerce or other local business association – many offer educational seminars as well as location-specific resources
… and in a pinch, your local Big Box Bookstore certainly has a business section as well, including many ‘Dummies’ books.

(Linking to it a 3rd time: this is handy stuff) US Census Bureau data by Zip Code :
…and just about Everything Else I can think to say on the topic :


    • running a bookstore without coffee, in the present day, is like running a movie theater without popcorn.

    Yes, certainly, it can be done. Your ability to forego coffee, however, will not change customer expectations, nor will it stop the customer questions, nor stem the never-ending ‘helpful’ suggestions:

    “Hey, you know what you should do? Maybe you should add a few more comfy chairs, and sell coffee.”

    Comment by Matt Blind — 29 July 2014, 15:20 #

Commenting is closed for this article.

Yes, all the links are broken.

On June 1, 2015 (after 6 years and 11 months) I needed to relaunch/restart this blog, or at least rekindle my interest in maintaining and updating it.

Rather than delete and discard the whole thing, I instead moved the blog -- database, cms, files, archives, and all -- to this subdomain. When you encounter broken links (and you will encounter broken links) just change the URL in the address bar from to

I know this is inconvenient, and for that I apologise. In addition to breaking tens of thousands of links, this also adversely affects the blog visibility on search engines -- but that, I'm willing to live with. Between the Wayback Machine at and my own half-hearted preservation efforts (which you are currently reading) I feel nothing has been lost, though you may have to dig a bit harder for it.

As always, thank you for reading. Writing version 1.0 of Rocket Bomber was a blast. For those that would like to follow me on the 2.0 - I'll see you back on the main site.



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