How To Build A Bookshop


Bookstores in London seem to be doing a healthy trade these days, but obviously not all are, and in other countries many are struggling to make ends meet. Posted on Hackernews were ideas for saving some US independent bookshops suggested by readers. They included some of the ones below, to which I’ve added further ideas;

Lease the Espresso Book Machine, which prints out-of-print and self-published titles on demand. It’s expensive but cheaper POD machines are apparently on the way.

Open a members-only bookstore/coffee shop that sells subscription access, becoming for-pay lending libraries with a book inventory that adjusts to patron demands.

Offer coworking space with coffee and decent chairs. It’s a lot less stressful than being in Starbucks all morning.

Buy a MakerBot 3D printer and charge people to use it.

Get referral fees from Amazon. Bookstores could have QR-codes with amazon referral links that make purchases easier.

Okay, you already run reading nights, but how about stand-up and performances based on topics related to published materials? How about publishers coming along to connect with readers and answer their questions honestly?

More specialisation – personally I hate vast barns of bookstores, 90% of which is filled with books I’m not interested in. Watermark in St Pancras and Clerkenwell Tales in Exmouth Market offer a slim selection of well-chosen books – I buy there more frequently than in Daunt Books, which are beautiful shops but quite confusing. I miss Murder One, the crime bookstore, but thankfully we still have Forbidden Planet (SF,fantasy & horror).

All other out-of-the-box ideas here…

6 comments on “How To Build A Bookshop”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    We used to have the Seville book store in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. It was in an old house with a built on extension. The floors squeeked, the doorways were narrow, the walls had capped stovepipe holes, there were sash windows in most rooms and there were books, books on shelves tall and low, tables and chairs and things hanging from the decorative ceilings. All new books, or fine old ones, and every category was mapped and had a section/shelf label. You could go in there on a damp day and drop five or six hours without knowing it.
    And the subject matter was so interesting: Under a set of stairs was the section with Rev. Montague Summers – Demonolatry, Compendium Maleficarum, etc.; near it complete British author volumnes, including the M.R. James I bought, Dickens, etc. And British history, a fine edition of Robertson’s The Kafirs of the Hindu Kush, and the mystery and SiFi rooms! How sad it’s gone. J.F.K. visited there.
    And yes, I hate vast barns.

  2. keith page says:

    The pleasures of the secondhand bookshop are fast disappearing.There used to be a converted church in Boscombe, and a superb half-timbered specimen in Salisbury.There are fortunately still some in Lewes [or were, the last time I was there] and a massive place in Rochester.The remnants of the trade in the Charing Cross road seem a little uninteresting nowadays.The various London Oxfams are always worth a look, though,particularly Marylebone and Hampstead

  3. Lee Van says:

    Murder One was great, if a bit claustrophobic, especially the ground floor where the mystery books shared with the romance for some reason. This became even more shoulder-to-shoulder when it transferred across the Charing Cross Road. I wonder if the original Murder One would have still been with us if say they’d abandoned the romance section and turned the space into a comfy coffee-and-sit area where like-minded mystery and SF readers (from downstairs) would have congregated (with the ubiquitous Forbibben Planet carrier bag).

    Although I have no idea as to whether the romance section was more profitable than the other two genres, so perhaps in a parallel universe the original Murder One still exists and people are deciding over a frappuccino whether to buy the latest Bryant and May which is neatly stacked next to a pile of Fifty Shades Of Grey.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    I have finally visited Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. It is four floors and an entire square block. I don’t know about barns but this book department store is an incredible place and has Chris Fowler.Fiction authors are alphabetical within their subject areas so there is no problem finding what you want especially as the floors and sections are colour coded and there are information desks with very helpful staff on every floor. Their coffee shop, big wooden tables and old mismatched wooden chairs, is accessible only from inside the store and the sign at the entrance warns that you may only take in books you are seriously planning to buy and nothing priced at over $50. Very pleasant reading atmosphere. The most active desk is where you bring in your box of books to sell. If you have collector books you make an appointment and a valuator is available to assess your original Lovecraft, Shelley, or whatever.
    We have Lawrence’s New and Used (open only in the afternoons, do not leave boxes of books at the door) and McLeod’s Books where you could easily be killed by falling towers or overloaded shelves.
    Saw a picture on the internet of a Christmas tree composed of layered books and draped with lights. Am thinking of building one.

  5. Alan Morgan says:

    I know (knew) both those, Keith (Boscombe and Salisbury) having lived relatively near both in my time.

    There’s still the Bookcase in Carlise. This vast, sprawling affair of many rooms on many levels (where at times you duck your head) will hopefully last out the passing of the age. Close to the castle.

  6. Nostalgia.Detected says:

    I don’t know if one is allowed to post links on here, but The Book Guide is a great website which lists all the secondhand bookshops in the UK as well as Book Fairs and Auctions. It will come up if you Google ‘The Book Guide’.
    They also encourage people to write reviews of shops they’ve visited and some of these are both enlightening and entertaining!

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