So You Want to Open a Bookstore

Crunching the numbers behind the titles

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Given the robust economy and the insane cash presumably being raked in by independent bookstores everywhere, it’s natural that you and many like you would be thinking of becoming independent booksellers.

So below, you will find the results of some calculations done by Annie Danger of Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco. Modern Times is a medium-sized independent bookstore—about 3,700 square feet, and with five part-time staffers.

These numbers should give a good idea of what it costs to run a bookstore. Note that about 41 percent of the cover price of a book goes to the vendor; the rest goes to the publisher, distributor, and author.

Monthly Operating Costs
Rent: $6,385
Payroll: $11,675
Health insurance: $1,997
Utilities: $334
Telephone: $159
Internet and website: $179
Booklog (computer inventory system): $63
Operating costs: $2,777
New inventory : $31,450
Freight/postage: $1,392
Total monthly expenses: $56,411

Break-Even Point
Hardcover books sold per day to break even: 182
Paperback books sold per day to break even: 268

In other words, they need to sell a hardcover book every 3.45 minutes, or a paperback every 2.38 minutes, to stay afloat.

Adapted from the San Francisco Panorama, Issue 33 of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern , which took the form of a one-time Sunday-sized newspaper. Published on Dec. 8, 2009, it was meant to demonstrate all the great things print journalism can (still) do. www.mcsweeneys.net