BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE: FRONTIER - the resource for entrepreneurs  
By Karen E. Klein
MARCH 21, 2000

Taking a Read on the Bookselling Business

Getting started has never been easy, but lately the competition and margins are even more hazardous


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Smart Answers Archive

Q:  I'd like to start a brick-and-mortar educational bookstore for kids and then take it online, but I can't find any good sources of information on the industry. How do I get a list of book distributors and publishers and arrange for them to ship their products to me?
-- W.B., Long Beach, Calif.

A:  Even before and its ilk came along, independent bookstores faced intense competition from discount chains that could readily undersell them. The squeeze on profit margins has only gotten more intense since online booksellers came into the picture.

Before you start contacting wholesalers and ordering inventory, you need to become familiar with the realities of owning an independent bookstore and the economics of the book-selling industry in general. Then decide whether this business is really right for you. Your options include taking some courses, reading up on the industry, or being mentored by an independent bookstore owner.

You can do all three through the American Booksellers Assn., a trade group located in Tarrytown, N.Y. The ABA's Web site offers good information on its Professional Development page, including how-to articles, beginner's courses, marketing tools and tips, statistics on book sales, e-commerce solutions for bookstores going online, industry outlook columns, and surveys of book-buying habits.

Some of the general information on the site is available to the public, but most of the specific advice is limited to members and provisional members. As a prospective bookstore owner, you can become a provisional member via the Web site.

Annual dues are $175, plus there's a one-time $25 processing fee. Provisional membership entitles you to the group's weekly publication, Bookselling This Week, and a copy of The ABA Book Buyer's Handbook.

The group will also hold a two-day Prospective Booksellers School in conjunction with its trade show, BookExpo America 2000, which is being held in Chicago on June 1-2. The course covers "every aspect of opening and operating a bookstore...from selecting the ideal site to store layout and design to financial management," according to the Web site. The $175 course fee includes admission to BookExpo America. You must register in advance. Call (800) 637-0037 x1249 or e-mail

If you decide to get into this business, the process of developing relationships with book wholesalers and distributors is the same as it would be for any retailer in the early stages of contracting with vendors, says Richard Scott, managing editor of Bookselling This Week. "You'll have to identify the major and minor suppliers that you want to purchase from, contact them about becoming a customer, go through their credit-approval process, and then begin ordering your inventory from their catalogs," he says. Two of the largest book wholesalers are Ingram Book Group and Baker & Taylor. Since you're interested in specializing in children's books, you might also be interested in contacting the Children's Book Council .

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