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The Economics of an Independent Bookstore

In a Ask Me Anything (AMA) interview at Reddit, a former bookseller wrote this heartbreaking headline last week: “My bookstore went out of business today, AMA.

The writer fielded questions from users, giving a glimpse into the bookselling lifestyle and the economics of this tough profession. The post also explained the tight margins of a used bookstore: “we’d clear 200 on a good day … the math did not really work.”

One independent bookseller responded: “$200 a day would kill us. We’re at roughly $1,300 a day, and it’s still not profitable. The worst part is, since we’re independent and a specialty store, people come in and ask me for recommendations, then go to Barnes & Noble or download it on a kindle for slightly cheaper. People just don’t give a s***.”

A “used/remaindered store” employee and Reddit user posted this budget:

If we clear $300 a day, we’ve paid our bills. We’re averaging up closer to $400, and have had an awesome couple of weeks around $600-$700 each day. We’re open for 11 hours most days, if that gives you an idea of what we pay out in income, and we’re in a trendy part of an extremely cheap city. We do sell rare–we specialize in first editions. Some first editions aren’t worth much of anything, and some are wildly expensive. They’re a pretty regular boost to sales, and definitely help keep our average high. Most of the time, the cost of any book is half of what we’re selling it for–we make 50 cents on every dollar you spend. Occasionally people donate things, or we get remaindered books that are worth much more than we bought them for, and our margins are much higher than that. Or sometimes someone dies and a $50 book becomes a $750 dollar book. Things like that give us the push to be successful instead of just managing.

What do the booksellers in our audience think? How many books does an independent bookstore need to sell to stay open in this rough economy?

If you want to support your local bookstore, check out our Best Indie Bookstores on Twitter list and our Best Bookstores on Tumblr list. If you only read digital books, you can explore our How to Buy eBooks from an Indie Bookstore post. (Image via Bill Ward’s Brickpile)

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