Could you make a modern bookstore into a real money-making business?

I was just in a bookstore that was closing with everything 50% off. By the time I got there the selection was pretty small, but I still got away with a couple of finds. But this got me to thinking that bookstores selling new books on paper are going to be obsolete in my lifetime.

Suppose I was the entrepreneurial go-getter type (which I am not :wink: ) and I decided that what the world needs is a new type of bookstore - the e-bookstore in a physical location. Could that possibly work?

My idea:

  1. You have a sample of all the e-book readers readily available, with staff to explain the basics of how they work. The sample e-book readers on display have several books that you can look at, to give the customers an idea of the advantages / disadvantages of using that particular e-book reader.
  2. In the store are new computers with large monitors, with a browser home page listing all the places you can get e-books, including free e-books like at the Gutenberg project. You can browse for free or you can buy books online and transfer it to your book reader in the store.
  3. You would have ads advertising new books, with new titles being listed prominently (posters in store, widescreen displays hanging on the wall showing websites or pictures of new book covers.)
  4. You would (of course) have a coffee shop in the corner with chairs and tables so people could chat.

Would there be any way to make such a store profitable? Any reasons anyone would go visit it?

The big flaw that I see is that most folks who want to buy an e-reader, are probably tech savvy enough already to do the book choosing and downloading at their own home.

I like the idea though. I think it could be tweaked to work, I’m just not sure how.

I picture what you say as not unlike an Apple retail store, which I believe is a fashionable loss leader for Apple.

What you describe won’t need a physical location, because, assuming e-reader devices are widely availaible, they will hook into the ether (cia cell phone companies or whatever evolves in the wireless space.

And DRM will be all but impossible, so don’t count on selling many copies. If DRM is barely viable, even for a moment in time, then the netflix of the world will own that space for the time being.

The money will continue to be in hardware and services, not content retail.

OTOH, if you could print a book on demand at reasonable cost, if you could find a community of readers willing to pay the price for that, maybe you could make a go of it. Instead of buying and waiting on Amazon, I’d click there tonight and pick up the book at my local print-on-demand" place the next time I went by, possibly as early as a fw hours from now or even less. Expect Kinko’s/Fedex Office to look hard at this space.

I don;t need a coffee shop for that, I am sure there will be one nearby thank you very much. Just get me in and out with my books and magazines printed on demand.

And maybe the profit comes from selling coupons and whatnot to slide in each book as a bookmark and recycling old books…

I think what you have isn’t a bookstore as it is a coffeshop with a book (or ebook) theme. I think it would work as long as you realized that your money was in food and drink, and the bookstore would be a break even propostition at best, and might even lose money. Hopefully the money it would technically lose would be compensated by the people it would attract, who would then buy food and drink.

In DC Kramerbooks is a thriving indie bookstore, which succeeds because it is attached to a bar and overpriced restaurant.

Also, if you have a bookstore, I would keep a small selection of decent highbrow paper books. These should still survive for a decade at least.

Thank you Tristan! I’ll come visit your store when you open it. :slight_smile:

not_alice, let met address some of your objections:
Are Apple stores really loss leaders? The store I envision would be similar to an Apple store. The Apple stores I see (three in my neighbourhood) are always packed on the week-ends. I haven’t seen the attendance on weekdays, but in the evenings during the week there are also a large amount of customers.

Downloading books doesn’t require a physical location, but getting the e-reader does. Look at all those wireless phone stores! Why do people go there?

An interesting thought would be to add a print-on-demand service. Though my original idea was that printed books will be dead soon.

A bookstore needs a coffee shop inside. Every major chain bookstore I see now (Barnes and Noble, Borders) has a coffee shop inside.

In my mind, the main focus of the store would be educating people about the different kinds of e-book readers, and which is best for your own particular needs. Secondly, providing a place that makes it esay to find those e-books and see what’s new. Thirdly would be the food/drink part.

Right, but the educating part isn’t going to earn money. That would mainly come from the food and drink presumably.

I think it’s an interesting idea but mainly for promoting a particular brand of e-reader. So it might be a smart idea for Amazon to start a few of these and see how they work. If they don’t lose too much money they might be a smart loss leader like the Apple stores mentioned above.

You’d have to be cheaper than Amazon or large electronics stores, otherwise people will come in, compare readers, and go order them on-line.

You might want to have one real copy of each e-book you sell, so people can browse just like at a real bookstore but buy the e-book easily when they find something they like.

That is still there after all these years?

They expanded to Baltimore in the early 80s IIRC on Charles in Mt. Vernon, and promptly failed.

OK, as a product manager in the high tech world, let me put on that hat for a moment.

When there is new tech, eduction is always the first part of any marketing effort geared towards the early adopters and especially the next wave of customers.

If you are willing to partner with the device manufacturer’s marketing arms, possibly for equity in your business and possibly theirs, and similarly with the content providers or their trade association, then you might be able to change the financial dynamics somewhat.

But the instant that the education phase is over, expect them to disappear in a flash (no pun intended).

[quote=“Arnold_Winkelried, post:5, topic:496222”]

Thank you Tristan! I’ll come visit your store when you open it. :slight_smile:

not_alice, let met address some of your objections:

Of course they are packed. that is why they are good marketing.

But they can’t undersell their partners where you get Apple stuff elsewhere, so they are top dollar.

Ever see people buying stuff there? I don’t. Not enough to justify the fancy stores in the high rent districts. Fry’s sells high tech stuff in Palo Alto e.g., Apple a mile or so away merely markets it.

Increasingly they don’t, they buy online or Target or Walmart or some such.

And those devices are exactly the ones that will incorporate ebook services should they become popular (big if in my book) and will eat indies alive.

Or they will just start carrying the ebook readers. What would stop your supplier from selling through Verizon stores - if you have 3 apple stores, you have dozens of Verizon stores in the same area probably. How long willyour suppliers stick with you when they could have Verizon and ATT and Tmobile and Sprint and Target and Walmart etc.?

If you are prepared to make money fast, maybe it can be done - but long or even short term, I’d doubt it unless you are prepared to build a chain to be acquired or acquire your competitors.

Fuck, why did I say that? Didn’t I learn ANYTHING from the Stoid/Arrogant Asshat Attorney threads? :slight_smile:

Mass produced printed books. Mashed up, make your own on demand - maybe not !

I was in a “half price books” in the Bay Area for the first time the other day - it had no coffee shop. I was suitably impressed given the state of the industry currently. I am eager to see their Berkeley store.

Uh, just guessing Amazon is nit likely to ever get into the bricks and mortar space :slight_smile:

Selling books is the family business so this has interested me for some time. I’m interested in the broader idea of whether anyone will purchase physical iterations of culture at all in the future. Books, music, films, pictures are all going (or long since gone) digital and I’m curious as to whether people will still bother with “the real thing” in a couple of decades.
With regard to stocking e-readers etc. there are already numerous electronics stores in my area that sell them. If my shop were to convert to an e-bookshop model we would have no advantage over those already selling them.

I imagine on a small scale there’ll be an arty, contrarian backlash against digitisation which is sort of already in evidence in the arena of vinyl sales and the renaissance of interest in gramophones/78s et al.

I read in the Guardian the other day about a new book printer that will produce a one-off bound book in 5 minutes, a photocopier like device. I’d be interested to see if they take off.

I for one still prefer paper books. I stare at a computer screen all day at work the last thing I want to when I get home is read a book on an e-reader.

None of the used book stores in the Bay Area I go to (Recycled, Book Traders, and one on California Street in PA whose name I forgot) have coffee shops. I suppose that when you get low margin per book you need all your room for books, not coffee.

BTW, I think used book stores will survive no matter what, since lots of people consider used books as rented not bought, in that you sell them back. if Google figures out a way to sell the books they are digitizing and keep the authors whole this might change.

Take an existing store about the size of a current walmart, stock with paper books, magazines , periodicals, etc. Sections with entire genre’s not competing for eyeballs or kneecaps.

Add lounge, perferably with a patio type setting that can be enjoyed in the spring/summer/early fall. Serve normal coffee, tea, hot chocolate and possibly wine and book spirits like sherry, brandy etc.

Want more fun, all those little people you displaced, let em sell their books in your location, give them access to sell used and hard to buy books, your traffic should compliment theirs and vice versa.

It should be a large enough area that artists,both photo and paint should be able to setup exhibits and art should be prominently displayed either electronically on plasmas or hanging from the ceiling or wall.

24/7 would be nice.


Take a look at indie camera dealers (except for high end equipment, not much of a business model left). Or indie MP3 dealers…(are there any?). As was said, as a provider of hardware you have to compete with WalMart, Target, Best Buy, Frye’s, and the internet on price. As a provider of digital media, you are adding overhead for something people can do from home

The key to making money with a bookstore is to sell what people want to read, not what YOU think they ought to read.

Actually, that isn’t the key to making money, it’s the key to not going broke. A lot of small bookstores miss this for some reason.

Oh yah, Kramerbooks is still doing well - and the restaurant and bar are both thoroughly packed on weekends. The bar in particular - good luck getting a seat after 7 or so on a Friday night!

Man, I love that place.

Note that Recycle Books, a “chain” of two stores out here in San Jose area, is doing quite well and is an “independent bookstore”. They do not sell coffee, either.

True, they mostly sell used books, but they still prosper, as their prices are thus less than Amazon, for the most part.