Rocket Bomber - article - retail - commentary - A new business model - growing beyond the Big Box Bookstore

A new business model, growing beyond the Big Box Bookstore

filed under , 25 August 2012, 15:08 by

An index of my previous columns can be found at


Three threads:

  • Bookstore Tourism is Up. (For some the news really is: Bookstore Tourism is A Thing.) [wikipedia, see also GalleyCat,, Travel Between The Pages]

  • Total Book Sales Are Steady. The Association of American Publishers reported that, even through the recession, their members’ sales were up from 2008-2010 [New Publishing Industry Survey Details Strong Three-Year Growth in Net Revenue, Units, 9 Aug 2011 – sadly, there isn’t a similar year-in-review post for 2011, as the AAP and the Book Industry Study Group are wrapping this data into a product called BookStats and hiding it behind a paywall. A $1000-a-year-or-so paywall. yep.]

  • The Bookstore Is Still a Gathering Place. [a “third place”, previously cited – see the listing at Google Books.] In fact, many of my complaints about working at a bookstore stem from the constant traffic we receive, and the volume of phone calls, all of which have to be treated as customer interactions even if [especially if?] they do not result in an actual sale — or at least, not one I can bank at the bookstore. See also, Yahoo Answers, Personality Cafe,“Dream Palaces — Bookstores”,, “Hanging out in bookstores: How quaint”, Jane Genova, 23 Aug 2010, “Bookstores— Headed for Extinction?”, Books & Such Between the Lines, 11 Nov 2011, and Ron Yacovetti, stand-up comedy on YouTube, posted 22 Nov 2011, see embeded video below [stand up that includes NSFW language, so excercise care]


    If you’re an entrepreneurial sort with a small stack of cash and are looking to open a small business: Start a restaurant. Train as a plumber. Get a lawnmower and start going door to door. There are a lot of options, but service, skilled trades, or food are the better bet — anything and I mean damn near anything but retail. You are competing not just with other shops but with gigantic multinational corporations that will always beat you on price. You can compete on quality or service (especially when it comes to food) but if you sell shirts or toasters? That’s hard.

    If you just run the numbers, attempting to make money at retail is an awful, soul-crushing thing to even contemplate, let alone attempt. And if you want to sell books? Online retail is so efficient there’s no need or little want for a bookstore, or even a non-Amazon online store: One site to rule them all, one site to find them, one site to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

    Why fight it?

    Well, part of it is that I love bookstores. I love them so much, if I win the lottery I’m opening my own [& also working very hard to do so anyway even without a jackpot] and I don’t plan to retire at all, ever. When I leave this world, you’re going to have to carry my rapidly cooling corpse feet first out the door of a bookstore.

    I love books and live a life filled with books. If the last remaining big-box chain bookstores went out of business I guess I’d content myself with whatever option was available — after all, I grew up with mall bookshops that rarely topped 2000sq.ft. I also used to bike to my local library as a kid and teen twice a week (at minimum) and pretty much started at one end of the first shelf on the first bookcase & read damn near everything.

    Still, when the really big bookstores opened (in my neck of the woods it was 1993, while I was in my second year of college) it was a revelation. Marvellous temples built for books, and built even out in the suburbs – not just the city center.

    I think many of us either weren’t old enough or have since forgotten what the bookselling landscape was like before Borders & B&N. Yes, there were many fine bookstores but nowhere near the selection — and I don’t think anyone sold a cup of coffee. [This was the topic & source of inspiration for my very first “Rethinking the Box” column]

    In 1993 the first major chain big-box outposts were opening. In 1993, the internet was also born — exact date debatable but the first graphical browser was in 1993 and that’s where a large chunk of the whole mess we now call “the internet” started. It’s not even that I’m going to pull the tired “born with the seeds of its own distruction” cliché — odds are good you first learned HTML or Java or C from a book you purchased at a chain bookstore. DOS for Dummies” came out in 1991 — no way in hell you bought that from Amazon. The big-box bookstore, with it’s large computer book section and consistent, relatively quick ordering procedures is no doubt the way the first of us became the net-literate, and it would take some very creative restructuring of facts and timelines to argue otherwise.

    [Oh, I suppose you could have learned it in college instead of teaching yourself from books. I did. Or at least, that’s where I learned the basics, back in ’92: But your college had all online materials and no bookstore? Really?]

    It was at least six years (1994-2000) before we began to pare back the number of computer books stocked in our bookstore, and even then, it was more a matter of purging old volumes (& whole categories) to keep up with the sheer numbers of new books and accelerating growth in tech topics. I think 2002 was when we finally pulled back, stocking mostly general knowledge & major OS books for the mainstream reader, as opposed to all the technical books. It didn’t stop people from asking for the books, but as soon as they heard our prices they almost always ordered online at that point anyway.

    I take some small pride in the fact that Amazon wouldn’t exist if their initial programmers hadn’t been able to learn from books bought at a bookstore — likely a local Seattle Borders, come to think of it. Sweet, bitter, bilesome irony.


    Most Wall Street analysis misses the point: bookselling is not retail. Yes, Amazon does “bookselling” “better”, but only because they are an internet-boosted mail order catalog, customers approach Amazon with a completely different set of expectations, and in no way should a website actually be equated with the poor retailers who have to make rent, payroll, insurance payments — and, if they are a nation-wide retailer: 100 or 200 or 800 sets of duplicate inventory and just as many public bathrooms that have to be cleaned on a daily basis.

    The Physicality of bookstores is actually an advantage, not a liability — and I know you doubt that — but for right now let me just state that I see not just a place for bookstores in our future, but a genuine opportunity. I don’t need a red-power-tie-wearing eastern seaboard profit-sucker to tell me that my business model is wrong. I don’t need an open-color western seaboard new-media-type to tell me that old business models are broken. I don’t need a corporate suit telling me I’m ‘wasting’ payroll and we need to ‘right-size’ our inventory.

    Screw ‘em. Screw ‘em all.

    People come into my store every day. They hang out for hours. My phone is practically ringing off the hook. With a major competitor suddenly leaving the market last year, we’re busier than ever. Even if the first question every person asks when they walk in the door is, “Where is your bathroom?” and only 1 customer in 10 is buying anything: that is still more traffic than 80% of other retailers ever get and hell: My only problem is how to monetize that traffic. [That sounds oddly familiar for some reason.] And one in ten is a hell of a conversion rate — One in one hundred is a hell of a conversion rate.

    Keep in mind my three threads from the top — Bookstore Tourism is up, Total Book Sales are steady, the bookstore is still a Gathering Place — and let me add two additional points.

    The bookstore chains are too big.
    …while the actual bookstores themselves are too small.

    A nation-wide chain of 200-and-on-up-to-1000 bookstores, with at least one store in all of the top 200 markets and as many as 30 outposts apiece to cover each of the 10 biggest CMSAs seems like a worthy goal — indeed, the very definition of business ‘success’ — but only, I think, for traditional retail.

    “Traditional” retail is getting harder to define though. It used to mean five-and-dimes, general stores, mom-and-pop town-square or main-street storefronts, with only a few department stores in major urban downtowns. Then it meant a mall-unit-sized storefront rented, well, out at a mall. Now, “traditional” retail means Target and Wal-Mart, while the even older models are “boutique” retail, or “specialty” shops. More often than not, traditional is used merely to differentiate physical shops from online retail.

    Even considering just the major players in retail, there are a lot of different models: “Retail” by itself isn’t enough to define your business. IKEA seems to get by with just 38 US stores, but there are more than 3,000 Wal-Mart Supercenters. Several regional & national chains operate tens of thousands of supermarkets & grocery stores (of all sizes) and if we define a convenience store to include the type of snack-and-sundry shops attached to filling stations then there are at least 120,000 in the US, and likely many, many more. Retail is a box Wall Street types like to dump companies into (usually companies they want to ignore) because retail is not sexy, it’s not “growth” or “potential” or “e” or “net” or trendy.

    It might be better to forget everything you think you know about retail & admit that not all ‘retail’ stores will fit in the same mould. [The number of executives brought in to run Borders that only had grocery/supermarket store experience is telling, and one of the things that contributed to its downfall]

    Part of it is a matter of scale:

    If you only had to stock 5000 or 15,000 or 40,000 SKUs [Stock Keeping Units, individual items with their own barcodes] you could afford to keep the exact same inventory at every location. Your largest supermarket, all those aisles of cans, boxes, bags, and packs (…and the produce codes — the sticker on your banana …and the generated codes for items from the deli, bakery, and butcher) — all those things at the nice big Supermarket add up to about 40,000 units. The weekly grocery shopping trip is an hour-long tour up and down every aisle, stopping, comparing, filling a huge cart, and then schlepping it all home. Supermarkets are huge and they stock 40,000 different items. Home Depot & similar warehouse-style home improvement centers also stock about 40,000 different items per store, it’s just that sheetrock & 2×12s take up more space then celery & cream of mushroom. Similar business, though it requires the larger footprint.

    A Walmart Supercenter is even bigger, combining the grocery with a general discount retailer. Supercenters average 142,000 SKUs, obviously some are even bigger… up to 175,000 SKUs on just as many square feet — Walmart is the really big monster of retail

    I’m belabouring the point because I’m trying to give you a sense of the scale of bookselling: most folks, when they think of the bookstore at all, it’s only for a magazine, the occasional bestseller, and the coffee — and in the view of the customer that’s just three items.

    In a bookstore, out of about 12 to 15 million SKUs [in the book biz we call ‘em ISBNs] we can only manage to stock up to 200,000 or so, on the same footprint as your larger supermarkets — about half a football field or so.

    No matter how many books I manage to stock, I still get compared to that 15 million number: As a (national chain big box) bookseller it is assumed by nearly everyone that I stock *all* books. If your local bookstore only stocks 100,000 books, you likely think of them as chintzy and small. A bookstore that only stocks as many items as a Whole Foods gets written off as a “mom n’ pop” indy.

    Did I mention that my (rough) estimate of 15 Million or more books likely under-estimates the number of self-published, print-on-demand, and e-books, and there are also an unknown number of out-of-print-but-still-available-used books — I haven’t seen an estimate for books-in-print that includes all these new and old categories so the total may be more than 15 Million. And I can only stock a fraction of those.

    The closest analogy I can think of is trying to find one particular resident of Ohio or Michigan during the annual UM/OSU game — and 200,000 is twice the seating capacity of either stadium.

    The enormity of the task is lost on my customers. Especially when my computer says there is a single copy of a book, “Your computer says you have it; Where is it?” [*impatient foottap*]

    We’re trying to locate one fan out of 200,000 and he’s not in the seat listed on his ticket — hell, he may still be tailgating in the parking lot. What more can I do?


    As stated, despite the glories of a Big-Box Bookstore [I’d have killed for one anywhere near my hometown in 1986] if we’re only stocking 100,000 books, the store is too small.

    Back in July I wrote a column outlining a new bookstore model: A small sales floor with a warehouse attached, basically a book distributor hiding behind a retail store front.

    Let’s do one better:

    Consider your customer base, how they currently use your space, what they actually want, and then serve those interests while running your shop and investigating other income opportunities.

    That statement is vague enough to be useless — so let me break it down.

    What is the social purpose of bookstores? Why, *why* do people hang out in bookstores? Why do we get more foot traffic? Why do people kill time in bookstores? Why do some people come inside just to make a phone call on their mobile when in most other instances they would step outside to do the same?

    We get used and abused — much moreso than any other retailer: do people take their shoes off and settle in on the floor in any other shop? Do you hang out for hours in a Best Buy? Do you bring a lunch and your textbook into the local deli? Do you ask your bartender where you can plug in your laptop? [actually, you do and I have – but if you’re not drinking & paying your freight: your bartender will tell you to move on.]

    Entrepreneurs in Africa make money off of charging cell phones; I’m expected to provide outlets for free to non-paying customers for the same service.

    I don’t actually need to answer any of those questions: It’s enough that people do. I, as a bookseller, have more foot traffic than any other retailer: my aisles on a Saturday in July look like other stores in December.

    Over time, a short dozen years or so, the [national chain big box] Bookstore has replaced a number of other social spaces: I hear kids under six refer to our store as ‘the library’ — only to be corrected by parents, “No, at this library we have to pay for books to take home” [I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in…] — and I have a feeling in another 3-4 years the youngest kids won’t even know there was a difference. Instead of meeting at an office, applicants meet employers at a bookstore. Instead of meeting at an individual’s home, book clubs come to the bookstore, knitting circles come to the book store, study groups come to the bookstore — instead of meeting at a bar or restaurant, friends meet at the bookstore, before the movie, before bar hopping, before the game — it’s where some blind dates start and where some former lovers meet to end it.

    I didn’t ask for this. In fact, when I first applied for a job at the bookstore, silly me, I thought I’d be selling books. Instead I’ve become a concierge, a research fellow, an academic advisor, a business consultant; at times I have to be a referee or a cop. At bookstores that run a coffee shop, we’re also baristas & waitstaff. If occasionally I lament, on this blog or other platforms, that customers suck, mostly it’s because I have to run a frickin’ community center, for free – when all I really wanted to do was sell books.

    I’ve expended a lot of mental effort, thought long and hard, on just what it is that makes bookselling so very ‘special’ and the only thing I’ve been able to come up with is seating. Tables & Chairs. Not a theater [chairs only] and not a restaurant [where you only keep a table while you’re running a tab] — at the bookstore we put in chairs, and as soon as we added the coffee shop, we also added a mess of tables.

    Since it’s been this way since the big-box expansion of the mid-90s, customers now expect seating. They demand it from the bookstore, along with a ready electrical outlet. Even though, when we were opening stores 15 years ago there was no way to anticipate that customers would demand a way to recharge phones and run laptops, logic doesn’t play and we’re held in contempt because we didn’t install a service that didn’t even exist a decade ago.

    And yes, while I can think of an easy response to your question, “Where can I plug in my laptop?” I’m not allowed to employ sarcasm at work.

    Also, I’d be more than happy to point out that there is no where to sit because we sell books, not furniture, but again: I’m not allowed to employ sarcasm at work. (we have chairs; the fact that other sponges are hogging all the chairs is not my fault, and don’t come to the desk expecting me to immediately fix it.)

    Suddenly, despite the existence of numerous very fine cafés, libraries, student unions, public parks, museums, churches, community centers, small theatres — and of course, all the bars, pubs, taverns, and restaurants — suddenly in 2012, we find the bookstore is the only public place people can hang out in.

    It’s preposterous on its face, but that’s how our customers treat us. Instead of complaining about it and continuing to fight it, I say:

    Accept it.

    But we’re going to need a bigger bookstore.

    Many places are “public” — parks, for example. Or museums. Or even government buildings, like the town hall or courthouse — but many public buildings have specific uses, and unless you have business there you never actually go, no matter how nice the lobby is. There are very few public spaces that are also social spaces: the library, obviously, and those few actual Community Centers that exist. But for whatever reason (are they too square? terminally unhip?) many of the citizens these facilities were set up to serve wouldn’t ever be caught dead going there. Social space is not the same as public space —

    Doing a quick mental survey [from my past architecture studies] I find myself coming up with very few analogues that also provide social space, besides the bookstore: some “lounges” and pubs, hotel lobbies, casinos, country clubs, and the shopping mall.

    The shopping mall food court is the best model: open seating [& seating in quantity] surrounded by retail and food. Oddly, even though food courts certainly get their fair share of use, they are not the ‘hang out’ that the bookstore is. (maybe it’s because we supply reading material.) Which is odd; I mean, a few of the local malls in my hometown have even added wifi. Maybe it’s because most food courts are designed to encourage turn-over on tables, just like a restaurant. Cheap-feeling chairs, wobbly tables, hard tile floors & echoing spaces: no one wants to hang out here. Compare that to a casino, for example: even the layout is vaguely similar (food service & small shops surrounding a central area) but the focus is different as the owners want you to sit down and never leave. It’s not about table turnover but stickiness: come and stay awhile. Can I bring you a drink?

    Have you ever thought about hotel lobbies? I’m guessing no. But perhaps (given the assumed proclivities of my reader base) you have been to a sci-fi, comic book, or fan convention. While the very largest cons take place in convention centers (another social space, but the worst model I can think of) smaller cons are held in a single hotel. There are conference rooms, a few restaurants, a decent bar (if you’re lucky; though the drinks are still overpriced) but there is also something fairly unique to hotels: the public lobby. Hotel lobbies are just transitional spaces, like airport terminals or train stations — one is meant to pass through, the lobby is not the destination. But despite that, and because of their long experience in the business, the lobby is also a space to temporarily stop and rest. Most have chairs & sofas that put my bookstore chairs to shame, and often these are grouped into smaller, semi-private spaces where small groups can gather, rather like a living room.

    The lobby has nothing to do with the economic activity of the hotel — but the restaurants & bars do. And when a hotel hosts a conference or fan convention, the lobby is the major public and social space.

    What does any of this have to do with bookselling? Stick with me for a bit longer: IF the bookstore is a social space AND our sales depend, at least in part, on foot traffic in stores AND we have to put up with all you people anyway: why not go with it? Make the bookstore a destination — not an errand but a day-trip. Capitalize on what people are already doing, increase our site traffic, make a major impression on public consciousness — and then innovate to make the most of each customer, and each customer visit.

    Sure, we currently run a café (can’t sell books without coffee these days) but the cafe shouldn’t be just a sideline — or more accurately, it won’t be the only sideline. Our coffee shop would stand to one side of the main seating area, now a spacious lobby: a nirvana of tables with outlets built into each column, a brace of comfy chairs on the inside wall, a row of patio tables just inside (and perhaps also just outside) the sunny windows, with a semi-detached space that just might be configured for an impromptu class or book group — and a separate 2nd floor lounge that would be even better for both. Set up the social space first, and put it in the center of your retail empire.

    Immediately adjacent to the central seating [I could call it a ‘food court’ — ‘cause that’s what it is — but I hope the customers don’t dismiss it as such] in addition to the de rigueur coffee shop, we’d have a quick lunch counter, or maybe 2-3 concessionaires: Subway? Bagels? Ice cream? Starbucks or Dunkin’, even, instead of in-house coffee? (If I win the lottery, I’m setting aside a couple million to entice Tim Horton.) I’m proposing a monstrous bookstore with daily traffic that is going to exceed all-but-December-retail numbers, and our December is going to be absolutely nuts. As a landlord, I could make a nice chunk on rent.

    Just off the central seating area, we’d have a full service restaurant & a first rate pub. These also directly support our ‘social space’ nexus: come in for a quick nosh and check your email while you wait for friends to get off of work, and then transition to the bar or to a table for dinner. Once again, we could run these ourselves or rent out the space; either works, and depends on how you want to collect your profits: guaranteed rent, or less reliable profits-from-food-service operations.

    — I’ll understand if you’re not really comfortable with either. It’s a rare bookseller who has experience in facilities management AND hospitality & bar operations. Why, I think there may only be one person with this particular skill set. [*smirk*]

    Keeping with the ‘mall food court’ model: once we’re past scone-throwing-distance from the coffee shop and our central seating area, well, that’s where the rest of our retail operation goes.

    In this case, the rest of the retail operation is a big effing bookstore.

    Now, let’s just assume for a moment that the commercial real estate market is so depressed that not only are a number of shopping malls all-but-closed, they’re even available for purchase — with no current tenants, falling into disrepair as we speak, and ripe for radical remodeling.

    [I know: so unlikely, if it weren’t actually true. Once in a lifetime opportunity here]

    We could buy a small regional mall — special bonus: the older and smaller malls are all closer to city centers, not further out in the suburbs — close down half of it to use as our warehouse/book distributor space, and reallocate the rest, building out from the food court, to sell books.

    The wonderful thing (from the booksellers’ point of view) is that we could set up a window where 50% of our customers could just walk up and ask for, oh I don’t know, Organic Ostrich Farming, and then we go back into the stacks, find it, and hand it to them. We’ll set up this special order window with its own [small] seating space and register — yes, you can look at the book, but unless you buy it you’re not leaving this lounge. Make it comfortable. Special lighting, extra comfy chairs, an assigned cashier — maybe even a cash bar — and a really big bruiser of a bouncer. Thank you, we have exactly the expensive medical textbook you want, you can even browse it, but no way in hell are you stealing it. Most customers would never know: we have a book, we hand it to you, you buy it. But for an extra special subset of our customers: yes, we get it, we’re onto you and don’t come back.

    Past this order window, we’d have the sales floor. Yes, I’m advocating that we separate “the stacks” from “the sales floor” — as 50% of our paying customers and 98% of the rest are either browsing bestsellers, browsing a specific genre [& we can accommodate that], or just hanging out for the free wifi and reading magazines. There is no need to make every shelf in every category available to the public. If the customers who already know the title and will buy it (if we have it in stock) can just walk up to the register closest to the main entrance and do so — that is a win-win-win. This call-ahead and pick-up may in fact be more than 50% of our business. We can stock as many titles as we can get our hands on, put them ‘in the back’ where they are immediately ready for sale, even if they aren’t necessarily ‘on the shelf’. We can take that part of the business and really streamline it.

    What about the folks who don’t or won’t buy books? Well, we’ve already set aside quite a bit of dedicated space for social butterflies & campers — and this space will pay for itself with food service, I think.

    And what about the grazers & browsers — who love to linger over tables & displays, and want to see what’s new – the readers, the book lovers — The other half of my book-buying customer base?

    That’s the whole point of the bookstore. And now we look at how to really run a bookstore:

    If I were in fact repurposing a shopping mall, then one “storefront” would be a newsstand with newspapers & magazines. Another might be a newsstand with comics. One storefront could easily be turned over to just the New York Times bestsellers & other mass market paperbacks — the direct equivalent of an airport bookstore. These could easily be the closest “stores” to our central-seating-area-slash-lobby-slash-food-court and there’s little thought or bookselling expertise required here, past keeping shelves full. We’re just meeting demand.

    Just past the obvious though: If I can hire someone who loves romance novels, why not give her 3000sq.ft. and full reign to order in titles, stock shelves, merchandise tables, and above all sell books. We can keep the overstock in our warehouse [adjacent, on site] and face out a full “bookstore’s” worth of genre titles.

    And do the same for mystery

    And the same for sci-fi

    And the same for history

    And the same for biography [say, does A&E want to do a co-branded bookstore, with DVDs?]

    And the same for design, or architecture, or gardening(from May-Sept), or cookbooks, or travel, or all of the above and more…

    And most specifically, for kids: in the less-and-less-hypothetical case where I was taking over a shopping mall, put the kids shop [picture books, beginning reader, plush, games, et al.] in the last remaining ‘anchor’ location and put both Young Reader [10-12] and Teen Lit [12-16] in the two locations just outside – close enough that kids can wander away from parents but far enough so neither set has to shop the ‘kids’ dept. [*ack*, gag me]

    [And even if it’s also in the teen section, there’s a chunk of ‘YA’ & ‘Teen’ lit that needs to be mixed in with the adult stuff – easy to hand, no judgements, cash at the register, thank you]

    While I’ve used the shopping mall as my touchstone [as that is what I, as a child of the 80s, am familiar with] [and damn but the commercial real estate market is depressed: I’ve run numbers. I think I could actually buy a mall] this Concept would work even better with repurposed industrial or office space. I can only imagine what DC’s Old Post Office or an art space like Le Lieu Unique (in Nantes, France) would look like if they were turned over to books.


    The future of retail depends on managing inventory, especially in the face of internet competition. Still, it is easy to open a huge bookstore that doubles as a distribution center; in fact, with a little advance planning you could open up a very small chain that covers hundreds of millions. […which I’ve already posted]

    There are are at least two ways to flatten verticals in retail: Amazon figured out one – sell direct from a warehouse & ship it. You cut out two layers—distributors & retailers—and make it possible to sell direct to customers from a massive inventory.

    IKEA has figured out a second path: sell direct from your warehouse to visiting customers. This also cuts out two layers — a distributor/warehouse (as the store is your warehouse) and shipping via post or parcel service. Amazon’s model is not the only way to lower costs. From point of manufacture to customer fulfillment: physical retail space is not the only or even obvious thing to cut.

    At IKEA, customers go home today with fine, flatpacked Scandinavian designed furniture & housewares. IKEA does so well with this model that their web site, actually (and intentionally) kind of sucks – and more often than not sends you into the store to buy.

    Let me go back to the “massive inventory available direct to customers” part – Chris Anderson called this The Long Tail and characterizes it as an internet phenomenon. However, the long tail is a change not in available books but in customer demand – this new demand is enabled by internet search but not restricted to internet retail. If I, as a retailer, can meet that demand today, then there is no need for a customer to order from the internet. So we need a bigger storefront. Or even a warehouse. This is a logistics problem, and one I can solve.

    Of course, someone is going to come at me with ebooks. You know, I’ve already done that math, and ebooks are great but they’re going to top out at around 50% of the book industry and that still leaves a lot of Billions to be made in retail.

    Further reading and references:

    Wikipedia: Old Post Office, Washington DC
    Wikipedia: Le Lieu unique, Nantes, France
    Wikipedia: Food court

    Reading and Readership in South Korea, 9 Jun 2011: Kyobo Bookstore

    Jonah Lehrer, Wired, 31 Mar 2012: The Psychology of Casinos
    How odd, Jonah Lehrer, The New Yorker, 26 Mar 2012: on casinos – Here’s a recap of the New Yorker article, in case you run into their paywall.
    Alexander Styhre & Tobias Enberg – Spaces of Consumption: From Margin to Centre [pdf]
    The New York Times’ Room for Debate blog: 101 Uses for a Deserted Mall
    Christina DiMartino, Retail Traffic magazine, 1 Mar 2001 – Retail Architecture: Delicious Design
    Mike Janssen, Retail Traffic magazine, 14 Jan 2010: Mall Owners Are Giving Food Courts and Common Areas a Facelift
    Robert Lillegard, QSR Magazine Dec 2011: The New Food Court
    architectkidd, 17 Sep 2011: A Different Kind of Food Court
    Baltimore Sun, 29 Aug 1996 – New ‘town squares’: From senior ‘powerwalks’ to traveling shows, malls fill broad role.


    Can a truly massive bookstore become not only a retailer but a Destination? Or even a Tourist Attraction? How big a bookstore do we need?


  1. I’ve gone in exactly the opposite direction from the one you detail above. I have a 1000 sq.ft. and every inch is packed with product. No chairs, no coffee, no bookclubs. Just product.

    (Books and graphic novels are about 1/2 my business; toys, games, cards, and comics make up the rest.)

    I stock the books I want to stock; my own favorites, cult favorites, quirky and interesting, and especially classics — the best books of all time.

    Only recently have I started paying attention to the best-seller lists.

    I’m in a busy downtown, with plenty of foot-traffic, though the locals don’t really think of me as a “bookstore” the tourists come in and see books — and see good books — and they buy.

    I point them in the direction of the used books, and then I point them in the direction of new books. There are tons of books in demand, and they usually aren’t hanging around used, and I’m able to sell them new. I can sell To Kill A Mockingbird every few days. Catch-22. George Martin every day. Not huge volume, but profitable.

    I did the big volume thing, and it wasn’t profitable. Being smaller but profitable is a much better idea.

    After 30 years of business, we’re doing very well.

    I think you’re right that there are opportunities available — if I wasn’t so established in my space, I would look for a space two or three times bigger, but I’d just stock MORE BOOKS.

    We’re a bookstore. I’ve watched half a dozen bookstores leave the area who seemed more focused on coffee and lounges than they were on books, meanwhile my wife’s used bookstore and my pop-culture store are doing very well. You don’t HAVE to do those other things. You CAN just sell books.

    Rumor is, our local B & N is leaving this fall, as difficult as that is for me to believe. If I was slightly younger, I’d be jumping all over a full-out bookstore, but like I said, my current model is doing very well, so….

    I think you’re idea of a mega store is a little nuts, but….it would be interesting.

    But I think you need to get out of Your Big Box, and start thinking about a nice cozy place of your own. You don’t need every book, just lots of good books.

    Comment by pigs with wings — 27 August 2012, 14:48 #

  2. The two seem to be complementary ~ the bookstore as warehouse and regional destination implies a large hinterland. And since the bookstore as warehouse and regional destination can only be located at a specific location within that hinterland, it implies market segments for a variety of different model bookstores elsewhere in the region.

    Comment by BruceMcF — 8 September 2012, 11:22 #

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