Challenge,  Misc

What Would I Do…

If I Started A Bookstore Today?

I got asked that question today and honestly I know exactly how to make a used bookstore very profitable in today’s world. I would not start a new store. Too expensive, too small of profit margins, too much risk, and honestly no real need with online bookstores working the way they are working for more and more people.

But I know how to start a very profitable used bookstore. And keep in mind, I have owned and run two used bookstores in my lifetime, but I would NEVER start a new used bookstore the way I did the two I used to own. It is a different world now.

So to make a bookstore work, I would move into this century.

Here are the steps I would do…

— Find a decent but not too expensive location. Should be easy in the next year with so much retail collapsing. (Get as long a lease as possible, you don’t want to move a bookstore. Trust me.)

— I would spend a goodly amount of money on a point of sale inventory system, a system that can spit out price stickers with codes, and a cash register that would track inventory. Critical and not cheap.

— Every book I got into the store I would put into the inventory system, of course using either the ISBN code or for older books, my own store code.

— I would start an online store with both Stripe and PayPal hooked up and every book in the physical store would be in the online store. The tracking system in the computer would tell me what shelf in the store it is on. If it sold online or in the store, it would be tracked.

— Then the key is that every book in the store would also be for sale on Amazon. And older, expensive collectable books would be on ABE and eBay.

I would set this up to start, so it would take some months to get up and going even with a small inventory. Then every book that came in the door I would do the same.

Now I have cash streams. Someone walking in the door, or someone finds it on my own online store. Or someone finds it on Amazon or ABE or eBay. All cash streams.

But all this comes down to a point of sale inventory system. All possible and you can buy them ready to go for bookstores right off the shelf. And this easily could be a one person operation and make some really, really nice money.

I would have signs suggesting if someone is looking for a book in the store, to search my online store.

And I would do a yearly Kickstarter to help out and donate books to schools and libraries and such and to help fund the store as well.

You use that system I just outlined, the store would be profitable without a doubt.

When I owned Pop Culture Collectables, I made my employees list 25 things a day on eBay at least. They always complained. I didn’t care. No misses and I was nasty about hitting that. Why? Because we made over two thirds of our money on eBay. And when days happened that one one came in the store, we were still selling and making money.

This is a modern world. Most bookstores won’t do this, of course. Powell’s Bookstore in Portland has its own online store and that has helped keep it alive so far. Roberts Bookstore in Lincoln City has a good web site as well. But neither sell on Amazon and Powell’s has point of purchase inventory system. For them it would be a no-brainer and so easy.

So anyhow, that is an answer to a question I got today.


A side note: Yes, I am working on Cave Creek. I will catch that up tomorrow.




  • Eduard Meinema

    More than ever people expect anything they want to buy in a store ‘right here; right now’. Most shops. instead, are cutting down costs by minimalizing their stock. As such disappointing their customers; their desired product isn’t ‘right here’ and most certainly not available ‘right now’. Plenty of reasons to stay at home…

    It has not (yet) become as successful as expected (or hoped for). But maybe ‘In-store-printing’ will be of interest to Indie bookstores in this matter. Provided the investment of the so called espresso bookmachines will be reasonable and easy (=quick) to earn back. Most of all the availability of titles will be important. As I understand some aggregators, i.e. Streetlib, are working / experimenting on distributing indie titles on POD base through local bookstores. Indie authors may profit from this market as well.

    I’m not familiar with the present situation, but Paris had a scoop in Europe way back in 2016 (
    The Harvard Bookshop seems to be victim of the lockdown, it is ‘temporarily’ closed… (

    In the end it will all depend on the service(s) a shop will provide. The customer is king and expects to be treated accordingly. Preferably even beyond his/her expectations…

    • dwsmith

      Back in 2004, at the ABA Convention, as it was called then, I saw a Docuteck machine by IBM and thought that was the future. Problem is print on demand machines in bookstores is far, far too expensive to run, far, far too wasteful, and would never generate a profit. Massive warehouses full of them working on an assembly line form makes it cost-effective and thus you have IngramSparks and AmazonPrint and a couple smaller ones. But in bookstores, I’m afraid it will never happen. They just couldn’t get the cost down.

  • Kate Pavelle

    So essentially, you’re describing a book selling business supplying to as many diversified outlets as possible, where you welcome walk-in customers to browse your inventory in person.
    A person could run this from an upcycled warehouse and it would still work and have “character.” A coffee bar and a few sofas, space permitting, would turn it into a community center of sorts. The coffee bar would be a stretch, those are health-board licensed spaces and need to be serviced by trained staff, so that might happen only much later. Half Price Books near us used to have a self-serve coffee dispenser, which was nice. Then they got rid of it because a few regulars would settle down for free coffee, free reads, and leave.

  • Lorri Moulton

    Excellent post, Dean!

    If someone in the store wanted to buy a book at the same time as someone online…I’m guessing the computer would block one of the sales?

    Are you sure you wouldn’t carry any new books? Maybe about the local area?

    Thank you for sharing. 🙂

    • dwsmith

      If local authors wanted to trade in their new books like they were used, sure, I would carry them. Just like any other book. I trade in WMG books all the time in used stores, brand new copies, because I want the books out. Paper books, historically, get six readers over a books lifetime. I want the books in circulation. So sure, no new books, but I would treat author’s books like any other book in the store.

      • J.M. Ney-Grimm

        Paper books, historically, get six readers over a books lifetime.

        I love hearing that!

        Over the years I’ve put a lot of my paperback books in the book exchange at my gym, the book exchange at my local library, the Little Library set up in front of the middle school (and several others on neighborhood streets), and even on the Local Voices shelf newly created at the regional library.

        Readers do choose them and take them home, but I never know what happens after that. I love the idea that they eventually pass along to yet more readers.

        • dwsmith

          That’s also why giving books to libraries is such a good thing. They seldom make it to the shelves, but they get sold in the library store and readers who might by your other stuff if the like the book get them. Supports the libraries and gets you readers.

          Scattering paper books to the wind, not signed, is one of your best promotions you can do. Don’t sign them, otherwise people keep them.

          • J.M. Ney-Grimm

            Thanks for the tip about not signing them. I haven’t been, but now I know to continue on that way.

            Interestingly, some of my best ebook sales months have come when I’ve been most regular about putting my paperbacks in the gym book exchange. (Can’t do that now, of course, because the gym is closed for the pandemic.)

  • James Mendur

    Off Topic:
    I know you’re a fan of pulp writers and pulp history in general, and i realized you probably no longer look at Twitter, so I thought I’d let you know via this channel about a series of YouTube videos about pulps, the most recent of which are two people discussing the history of the pulps, Not sure if they’ll be saying anything you didn’t already know, but I thought I’d share the link, just in case.

    • dwsmith

      Fun interview, thanks. David Avallone and Jess Nevins, tough to go wrong there. And for those of you who don’t know, Avallone is a film editor and a comic book writer and novelist, but his father Michael Avallone was one of my favorite writers growing up and was scary prolific. At one point I had a six foot tall and four foot wide shelving unit in our house that had nothing but Michael Avallone paperbacks on it. And he wrote under a bunch of other pen names.

      • Mark Kuhn

        Wow, thanks James and Dean. I just checked for Michael Avellone on Kindle and found many of his books there.
        The “Satan’s Sleuth” series stands out for me.
        I’ll be checking the youtube link later on.

  • Adrijus G.

    Nice idea. Maybe a coworking space would be ideal complement to this?

    People would come to sit down and work some, drink cups of coffee (you don’t need full coffee shop experience for that, just good coffee from a machine, as long as it’s good coffee people will not care too much) and then browse books on the way out or during.

    Seems like a good combination. I know I’d find it cool when coworking (being surrounded by books would be great). Coworking could be another, even main, income stream.