Do you still keep a bookshelf for your favorite books? Bookshelves were in fact a common feature in most homes. However, this dropped when the internet became part of people’s lives.
It’s at this time that Yahoo, eBay, and Amazon stores became popular. Indeed, people of different ages, occupations and social affiliations have a desire to learn.
They either want to learn something new or update what they already know.
As a result of this rapidly developing trend, many are interested in creating an online bookstore. They want to share their passion with others while still making money.
However, a lot is involved in starting an online bookstore for old, general, college or Christian books.
How do I start an online bookstore? Do bookstores make money? Why are they declining? This post will answer these and more questions about online and independent bookstores.
So then let’s dive right in.
What is an Online Bookstore?
An online bookstore is an eStore or shop where you sell new or used books online. Actually, many people think of Amazon when they hear the phrase online bookstore but there are several private stores selling books on their website.
Today, many authors write, publish and sell their books online. These include academic books, novels, kids’ books, magazines and more. You can get titles and units directly from publishers, book reps, or distributors as well as local libraries with duplicate book inventories.
These channels allow you to buy a variety of books at a discount or wholesale price and sell them online at a profit. For instance,
Treasure Chest orders books from different publishers, store them in its warehouse and then offers them to online sellers at a wholesale price.
Search engines will direct readers looking for books online to your website. They will find the titles listed by their category, their prices and shipping cost.
Alternatively, local readers can walk into your bookshop and pick a copy they saw on your site or request for it to be delivered at their home. Therefore, customers search can lead them to your brick and mortar store.
It’s important to have a variety of titles and to price your books fairly because there is a lot of competition. In fact, it’s extremely hard to compete with Amazon unless you sell your copies slightly lower than this eCommerce giant.
It can also be helpful if you offer discounts and promos because this will attract more buyers and make your online store a success.
Are Online Bookstores Successful?
The increase in the number of online bookstores in recent years is a sign that this is a booming business venture. Many people have switched from print to digital media thus changing the bookselling industry.
Before the onset of the health pandemic, Andy Hunter launched his online bookstore which he presented as the Indie’s Amazon alternative. The entrepreneur offers a wide selection of titles to appeal to a large audience.
When bookstores closed their doors during the pandemic many of these owners went online to fill their phone and online orders.
While these small competitors have not chipped away Amazon’s market share they have discovered a lot of unexploited opportunities.
Indeed, several bookstores dived into the online retail ecosystem, and their sales rose during the lockdown. For instance, Hunter forecasted that Bookshop’s sales would hit $30 million in 2022.
However, by mid-2020 the sales were on track to surpass $40 million in annual sales which is the amount he hoped to hit by the end of 2022.
This trend will continue post-pandemic and going into the future even as the over 750 bookstores join the e-book industry in the US.
These stores have mastered certain tricks that help them to direct sales or more customers to their own businesses. These include:
- Stocking books that appeal to a large audience i.e. religious books, self-help books, romance books, financial books, educational books, health books, etc.
- Redesigning their websites to accommodate more online orders, making them easy to use and very convenient.
- Timing when publishers are releasing their books in order to draw attention to the subject.
- Mastering the seasons when the demand for certain genres is high such as during certain activities.
- Rewarding a reader that refers a friend to the bookshop because word of mouth is key in this industry.
The performance of mentioned online bookstore is impressive and this shows that the e-book industry is successful. So then how much capital does one needs to get started?
How Much Money Do You Need to Start a Bookstore?
People with a passion for books can create a business out of this. However, conducting thorough research about the industry is helpful because many successful traditional bookstores are going digital as well.
The research will help you pick a niche, decide whether to go for an online or traditional bookstore and get cost estimates of operating a bookstore.
The American Booksellers Association is an excellent resource because it allows you to learn from more experienced booksellers and your network.
Inventory cost is one of the major expenses when starting a bookstore. Here is what you need in three different scenarios.
The Cost Starting Physical Independent Bookstore:
Filling the shelves of a physical bookshop may need more than $30,000. Based on the locations the rental may take up to $6,000 per month,
The computer inventory/cash register and a website may consume $600 -$3,000. Other costs are nonrecurring expenses such as developing your website, branding, furnishing, decor and more.
The Cost of Creating an Online Bookstore for an Existing Bookshop:
An independent bookstore that wants to sell online will need $300-$500 to develop its website.
Based on these estimates starting a bookstore is expensive and requires good planning. Also, a bookstore has high operating costs, therefore you must sell several books each day to manage these expenses.
Despite that, it’s important to keep in mind that online sales might not come in every day while walk-in buyers may only come on weekends or after work.
Therefore, you must run a lot of marketing campaigns to keep your customers coming in order for you to recoup your upfront investment and for the bookshop to remain profitable.
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Do Bookshops Make Money?
Bookstores make money regardless of the high startup inventory cost. Bookshop owners have mastered the trick of buying a big stock from publishers at a discount and selling at a profit.
The store retains about 41% of each book’s cover price while the author, publisher and distributor keep the remainder. Within a good flow of customers, a bookstore can generate decent revenue to meet the operating cost and retain good profits.
Further, stores that are located in touristy areas or college towns are likely to make more sales than others.
Therefore, it’s important to consider the commercial space when starting a bookstore, develop a unique website and promote your own business online using other channels. These activities will grow your sales and profits.
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7 Steps to Start a Bookstore Perfectly
You don’t need experience to start an online bookstore business but it will be helpful if you have a passion for books and have enough money to start a bookstore.
The following 7 steps will help you get started.
1. Learn about the industry
The bookstore industry is broad and includes college, general and speciality bookstores. Each category sells books for a specific group such as textbooks for students, children books, religious books, financial books, self-help books and more.
College and general bookstores generate the highest industry’ revenue compared to religious bookshops. Aside from books they also sell magazines, gifts, music, CDs, toys, and more.
Still, these businesses have joined the e-market to grow their revenues thus increasing competition.
However, you can get inspiration or information from sites such as the American Booksellers Association, Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, Independent Online Booksellers Association, Las Vegas Bookmans Guild and more.
2. Pick Your Niche
The world has several categories of books but there is no single bookshop selling all these varieties. Actually, most of the bookstores specialize in one or a few niche markets because they want to capture a particular group in the target market.
It’s only larger bookstores that have the luxury of stocking a wide variety of book titles or many niches. A startup bookstore lacks the capital base to do that. Still, your bookstore can start out and compete favorably with others when you choose one of the fast-moving niches.
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3. Select the Best Legal Entity for Your Business
There are different types of structures in the world of business. These are sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company or corporation. Each legal entity has its consequences; for instance, both limited liability company and corporation protects you when someone sues your bookstore.
You can approach a certified public accountant and attorney if you’re not able to pick the best legal entity for your own business.
Authorities expect you to meet all the legal requirements before operating your own business. This includes the certificate of incorporation, operating agreement, business license, employee identification number (EIN), federal tax id number and more
4. Choose the Best Location
The location of your bookstore business is key to its success. Getting a shop in an area with high foot traffic is better than one with vehicular traffic.
The same applies to an online bookstore because you need enough traffic to your website and business to make decent sales.
Aside from foot traffic, you need to consider the city laws for particular businesses. For instance, you can’t locate your bookshop next to a meat factory, restaurant or grocery store.
This is important even if you’re running an online store because you can’t run it from your living room unless you’re selling virtual books or courses.
Even with an online store, some customers will order physical through your website, so you need some inventory and staff to manage orders and shipping.
5. Hire a Team
Although there is increased growth of e-stores the concept of running a traditional bookstore and an online one is the same. In fact, most online stores sell virtual and printed copies.
So there is a need to have a couple of staff to restock the shelves, serve customers, process customers’ orders and shipments and more. All that buyers want is a hassle-free delivery of their books at their doorstep.
The number of employees depends on the style of running your bookstore business. However, you need book handlers, cleaners, a front desk officer, cashiers, a supervisor or a general manager.
6. Create a website
Your business needs a website, logo and flyers. A website gets your bookstore business visible online. Actually, your social media profiles can’t replace a website but instead, they are avenues of directing traffic to your business.
All legitimate businesses should have websites and you can hire a qualified web developer to create a unique and easy-to-navigate site.
Also, the site should maintain a list of all book titles you’re selling, business address like cell phone numbers and location details.
7. Market your Business
The internet has simplified the process of reaching the target audience unlike in the past where bookshops relied on print media, television and radio stations.
Today, you can place ads on social media platforms and the website. You can also list your bookstore in online directories, engage reading clubs and more.
How to Start an Online Christian Bookstore
A person may wish to extend their Christian ministry or turn their passion into a business by starting a Christian store. In fact, you can spread the gospel by selling music, videos, religious books or any other novelty items.
Here is how you can get started.
Like any other regular business, a Christian store starts with a business plan where you list your vision, goals and strategies. It should also outline the accounting software program you will use to track inventory, sales, taxes, the payment method and more. Provide a marketing plan you will implement to drive customers to the store.
Type of Christian Store:
You need to choose between an online business, a physical store or both. This depends on the available startup capital. Usually, a physical store requires a huge capital investment than an internet-based store. You can also start it as a partnership or look for investors who are ready to invest in your business.
This is an important factor if you want your bookstore to thrive. So look for a location that gives you the best exposure.
Necessary Business Permits and Licenses:
It’s mandatory to have all the necessary documentation and licenses before opening the doors to your Christian bookstore.
You can’t run an entire Christian store alone even if intend it to be your day to day job. So you will need to hire some employees to work permanently or for a few days.
These should have professional qualifications, and good character because the success of your bookstore depends on how they treat your customers.
Setup the Store:
Contact potential suppliers who will fill the orders. It’s important to note that it will take major suppliers between two and four weeks to deliver the stock.
Still, you can buy Christian books from wholesale stores, thrift stores or online Christian store distributors who are clearing items. Such yard sales or clearance sales offer items at discounted prices. Use your accounting software program to keep your inventory current at all times.
Create a website for your store and profiles on social media for marketing your Christian books. You can also promote it through your networks such as your church or other religious organizations.
How to Start an Online Used Bookstore
There are two ways of starting an online used bookstore. You can choose to start from scratch which includes conducting thorough market research, registering your business, contacting publishers or distributors and more.
Operating an independent store is not easy because of price competition, but there are still successful individual bookshops in the market.
The second option is to buy a franchise and be part of a large chain store. This option offers a smooth way of operation, unlike independent bookstores.
Usually, the parent company is responsible for inventory, marketing and publicity; thus leaving you with few things to worry about.
Your preferred business model depends on the goals and vision you have for your bookstore.
Are Bookstores Declining?
Today’s modern bookstores are much different from the chain and independent stores that only sold books. Actually, there has been a huge decline of such stores due to consumers’ behavior change, the onslaught of technology and competition from online portals and retailers like Amazon.
The demand for books has been growing over the years but today’s readers are using apps on their mobile phones or e-books on Kindle.
Publishers on the other hand are using technology to target readers directly thus eliminating the need for bookshops. In fact, it’s only the proactive bookstore owners that are exploiting new technologies such as e-readers that will survive.
Further, the low traffic from walk-in customers is causing small scale bookstores to exit the market.
Due to this, large independent stores are selling online, revamping their marketing and publicity, as well as engaging in other activities to both attract and retain customers.
Another reason for this decline is the price advantage that large chain stores have over independent stores.
These stores can order large volumes of books directly from publishers or authors at a discount and sell the same book at the best price.
However, individual bookshops without such a capability can only buy their books from distributors and so they can’t match what large chain stores are selling their own books.
The only way independent bookstores can survive is by choosing a specialized niche, boosting their customer service, selling online and offering personalized service.
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What Makes a Bookstore Independent?
An independent bookstore is a bookseller or indie bookstore. It’s not a member of a larger chain like Barnes & Noble but an independently owned bookshop. It ranges from a single store to multiple shops in several locations.
In the past, the majority of American bookstores were independent, however, the scene changed when Amazon was founded in 1994.
Since then the number of indie booksellers has been declining. In fact, this online retailer threatened the survival of some big-box bookstores like B. Dalton, Borders and Waldenbooks. They had to close their doors between 2010 and 2011 due to stiff competition.
On the other hand, the number of independent stores has been on the rise since then due to the buy-local movement.
This is a concept that promotes buying locally in order to support small locally-owned businesses such as indie bookstores.
Why are Independent Bookstores better?
Many people consider independent bookstores as a better option because they bring local readers together and contribute to making the city unique.
Indie stores contribute to the local community unlike large online retailers such as Amazon that sells books but doesn’t help the local economy.
In fact, these independent stores provide local labor and buy goods or services from the community. Online retailers give the local economy $0 and send their profits to their headquarters or international suppliers.
Independent bookstores curate their inventory in a way that satisfies the community’s interests and readers’ needs. They also support new authors with book launches and signings, unlike online retailers.
Additionally, chain stores look exactly the same whether in Alabama, Oregon, or Montgomery. Unlike Barnes & Noble, staff working for an independent bookstore understands the inventory in the store.
As a result, they can make personalized recommendations to the readers who visit the bookshop.
Further, employees of such a bookstore make personal connections with customers thus reinforcing the concept of the local reader community.
This makes it easy for the indie bookstore to facilitate local culture and events that bring the entire community under one roof. These include author meetings, book club meetings and more.
In addition, independent bookstores are better because they allow self-published authors to support the community.
They provide a platform where these authors and publishers can sponsor local events as well as stock their books in their bookshops.
Large chain retailers don’t engage in such activities because their goal and vision is different.
Are Independent Bookstores Thriving?
Although online bookstores are set to transform this industry most readers prefer independent bookshops due to their unique features.
For instance, some are hubs for communities founded on the shared love of reading that people have. Thus some have sofas and cafes where one can go sit and read.
They also host literary lunches, author readings, or others events that expose readers to the book publishing world. Indeed the goal of independent bookstores is to share the love for literature.
Another reason why independent bookstores are thriving is that their owners also love books and want everyone else to do so.
Therefore, there is a higher chance of finding your favorite book in an independent than in a chain bookshop. In most instances,
These bookstore owners give shelf space to titles that you can’t get in Amazon or chain bookshops. This is in addition to new books, used books, educational videos that are available in existing bookshops.
So many people opt for independent bookstores because supporting such a local business is the same as supporting the entire publishing industry.
They both richly deserve it thus the reason why independent stores are thriving.
What is the Value of a Local and Independent Bookstore to the Community?
Generally, independent bookstores work directly with the community in a manner that online retailers can’t replicate.
While these stores have exponentially huge book inventory and significantly lower prices, they are merely eCommerce specialists and not booksellers.
Independent bookstores are booksellers that match readers with authors which is an essential aspect of the literary experience.
These stores bring both the reader and author in one space and help like-minded individuals to exchange ideas or brainstorm.
Further, independent bookstores serve as a safe space for students who come after school, strengthen the local economy and gives friends a great way to spend time on a Saturday afternoon. Most of these spaces and services are free.
According to R. J. Julia owner, Roxanne Coady, each $100 that a reader spends when they buy a book at an independent store, $73 goes to the local economy compared to $43 that non-locally owned bookstores give. Further, these books also stay in the community and many other people can read them for free.
Independent bookstores are known for supporting creativity by hosting author events, book clubs, lectures, themed reading groups and several other activities.
The reason is that books shape the minds of innovative and creative thinkers. Therefore these indie stores help readers to explore, discover, and ponder thus helping the mind to get a spark of a new big idea.
Starting an online bookstore is an excellent business idea; however, you must conduct thorough research before diving into this industry.
This post has given you tips on how to start an online bookstore or sell books online. Although it has not covered every aspect of an internet-based bookshop, the above insight is enough to help you start selling new books, used books, or Christian books online.
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