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Do you want to sell new books or used books? Do you want to stick to a specific type of book or have a general bookstore? Do you want to sell books online or in-store only? Do you want to be the dude selling books on a street corner?

For a long time these, and more, have been the questions that I have been asking myself. From what I have seen in my time on these boards, and the suggestions that were made in the comments of my previous post, it seems that the standard practice is to start online and move into a brick and mortar store. This isn’t always the case (I remember reading a blogpost somewhere about a guy who started his own bookstore in a shack across the street from a bunch of bars paying rent of a couple of hundred dollars a month), but it seems to be how people prefer to do it.

In Toronto lately, and I’m sure this is happening elsewhere, as well, it seems that there are stores that are taking the opposite approach. They began years ago as a brick-and-mortar store, but now, for a multitude of different reasons, they are shifting to being a solely online presence. Going online can have many benefits, of which I’m sure you are all aware: far fewer overhead costs (rent…bills…staffing, etc), an online store that can (in a manner of speaking) be open 24 hours a day, and one that I just thought of now: fewer worries about inventory shrinkage and theft (assuming you are careful in your shipping terms), and a larger customer base. The two bookstores I’m thinking of, one which I went to frequently, and one which I only went into once, just to see it before it closed are David Mirvish Books and the store that was formerly known as simply Pages, but has now become “Pages Beyond Bricks and Mortar.”

The reasons why Pages went online were well documented in Toronto in the months leading up to this. The store was based on a street that had, since the store opened, come into its own as one of the key retail strips in the downtown core of the city: Queen Street West. As happens with gentrification (and this is great [kinda] because here my love of bookstores and my love of urban development mix and I can really talk about both) rents begin to rise. Pages had long enjoyed fairly low rents, but eventually they simply rose too high to allow the store to survive. Pages had long been a Toronto institution and when it was announced that it would be closing there was an outcry. No one wanted Pages to go. But sadly, it did. And the final night there was a huge party in its honour. Pages didn’t go away entirely, though, as I mentioned it moved to an online only presence and continues to sell books to the people of Toronto (and now…beyond)

David Mirvish Books is a bookstore that sells books on art, architecture, urban studies, really anything that would appeal to the slightly hippie (and now hipster) neighbourhood that it called home since 1974. After years in the same Markham street location David Mirvish books announced that it would be closing its brick and mortar presence and moving into online only sales. So far, it’s been successful.

The story of these two bookstores made me consider opening an online-only bookstore and sticking with just that when I first began to consider the proposition of becoming a bookseller. After a while though, I decided that I would begin online selling used books, and then move up to a brick-and-mortar store. The opposite of these two wonderful bookstores I’ve been talking about. I like people. I like the idea of making a bookstore more than just a bookstore, but making it a place for the community as well. And I like people. I might complain about people, but I also like them. I’ve had jobs where I haven’t been able to deal with large and varied customer bases face-to-face and I hated it. It just goes to show, though, that in this day and age, any business model can be viable…if you’re smart, lucky, or both.

Matthew Singleton

Matthew Singleton

Matthew Singleton

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One Comment

  1. I’m wondering if the reason they’re successful online is because they had a brick and mortar store, a lot of happy customers who continue to buy from them, and, therefore, maybe, no shipping charges? The competition online is fierce, especially now.

    We’re a brick and mortar used fiction paperback exchange store in San Diego that, in this economy, is successful for us. But, then again, we have customers from all over the county, over 3000 in our database that exchange books. Also, our inventory and policy is better than most of the other local used bookstores, minimum price is $2.00, books from $5.99-$7.99 are $3.00 and all books over $7.99, including hardbacks and trade-sized, are $4.00. Bring in a book that we can use and get a book for half price. Also, we’re in a strip mall next to a Ross store. All of these things have added to our success. We’ve watched many bookstores in San Diego go out of business in the last few years.

    We sold online for a while, but it simply wasn’t worth the extra effort for the cheap prices we had to charge to sell anything; we don’t have rare books.

    So, maybe, it would be advantageous to have a brick and motor store to build up a client base, and then keep those customers and just sell online? I haven’t a clue what would work, but it seems to have worked for Pages and David Mirvish books.

    Dana, Book Place

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