How to Open an Independent Bookstore Business

A bookstore is one of the most enduring and traditional types of business you could open. Despite this, there have been plenty of challenges to the bookstore model over the last few years, with the increase in ecommerce, the rise of Amazon and the move toward ebooks.

Against this background, you might wonder if it’s worth opening up a book shop — the good news is that with some careful planning and research, you could create a successful store that spreads information, entertainment and delight.

Of course it might not be easy, but entrepreneurs with the right approach can turn a passion for literature and manuscripts into a center of knowledge that your customers will love.

We know it can be daunting to start a bookstore business, and we’re here to help. We’ve supported over 100,000 people to form their business and provided answers, guidance and support to transform them into entrepreneurs. We’ll guide you through what you need to know to start your bookstore business and get it off the ground.

bookstore business

Read on for some insight into creating your own bookstore business and becoming an entrepreneur. In this guide we will cover:

  • Statistics on why you should start a bookstore business
  • How to find out if a bookstore business is right for you
  • Ideas for the type of bookstore business that you could form
  • How to validate your bookstore business idea
  • Bookstore business planning
  • Choose the right business structure for your bookstore company
  • Setting up your bookstore business (including location, equipment, employees, taxes, finances, licenses and more)
  • Useful online tools for bookstore business owners

Why You Should Start a New Bookstore

There are some great reasons to start a new bookstore business in the U.S. Aside from giving life to your interest in great writing, it’s also a good opportunity to build a community around literature and make some money. Here are some of the facts around bookshops:


Approximate sales of books per year


More than this number are the books sold in the U.S. each year


Number of independent


The number of independent bookstores grew by 35% between 2009 and 2015, with nearly 600 stores opened

In 2017, print book sales were up almost 11% from 2013, and sales of printed books have increased every year for the last five years.
This might be surprising given the size and influence of Amazon and digital media, but people are moving away from their screens to the comfort of the pages of a good story.

Is a Bookstore Business Right for You?

Although it can be exciting to form a bookstore business, there will be significant demands on you as a small business owner. Here are some of the things you can expect.

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A Day in the Life of a Bookstore Owner

Here are some of the typical tasks you’ll be performing for your bookstore business on a daily basis.

  • Understanding the types of books that your customers want and ordering them
  • Keeping up with the newest releases
  • Reordering stock that you’ve sold and making arrangements with book distributors
  • Selling books to people and managing staff
  • Building a sense of community around your bookstore
  • Maintaining the look and feel of your store
  • Dealing with administration like financial management

Skills Needed by a Bookstore Entrepreneur

The following skills will be very useful in your role as a bookstore small business owner.

  • Good interpersonal skills for dealing with employees and customers
  • Insight into what your customers want
  • Excellent recordkeeping skills to stay on top of your inventory and your finances
  • Attention to detail of how you present and market your bookstore business
  • Great networking skills to build your presence in the local community

What Your Bookstore Customers Are Looking For

The secret to running a successful bookstore is to create an excellent customer experience. One of the reasons independent bookshops are growing is that buying online doesn’t provide a sense of personal service or community. Bookstores that can meet those needs by understanding and providing what customers want are the most likely to succeed.

How to Focus Your Bookstore on People and the Community

Here are some ideas for creating personal connections with customers and building a sense of community:

  • Specialize in a particular niche of books and provide deep insight into those areas — for example, you might focus on first editions, foreign language manuscripts or books on particular topics
  • Hire expert staff or become a subject matter expert yourself so you can share useful recommendations and information on the books you’re selling
  • Create personal relationships with regular customers and ask them what types of books they would like you to carry
  • Provide a comfortable ambiance and atmosphere (for example, with comfortable well-lit areas where people can browse books)
  • Think about adding a small cafe or coffee services to your bookstore, both to help people relax and as an additional revenue stream
  • Hold community events and meetups in a friendly space
  • Create book clubs, discussion groups and reading goals for your customers
  • Host special events like author readings
  • Get people to share information about your bookstore on social media
  • Partner with other businesses in your city to hold “pop up” events

Selling Books Online

You don’t need to limit yourself to just selling books over the counter. You can expand into wider markets by creating an online presence. Whether you sell through a third-party marketplace like Amazon or you have your own ecommerce site, you can create a useful additional revenue stream.

Validating Your Bookstore Idea

Remember, the ideas above are just a starting point. You can define and tweak exactly how you’re going to run your bookstore business through conducting your own research.

  • Identify your bookstore business’ unique selling points (USPs): Marketing will be crucial to your success, and that means identifying the unique things your bookstore does well and promoting those into your local community.
  • Look at who your competitors are in the space: Look at what your competitors are doing and think of a way to set your bookstore apart. Don’t try to compete with online businesses — you’re offering a different kind of service, so play to those strengths.
  • Understand your market: Clearly identify exactly who your customers are likely to be, where they hang out and how you’re going to reach them. Although you can rely on some local footfall, if you can learn who is interested in your bookselling niche, you’re more likely to be a success.
  • Talk to customers: Speak with potential customers to understand what they want from your bookstore. Try, tweak and test what you’re selling to see what does well.
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The thing to learn here is that it’s okay to say “no” to your first, second or third bookstore business ideas. Very few entrepreneurs get it right first time. In fact, getting it wrong is often a badge of honor! Still, you don’t want to waste too much time, energy or money on the wrong initiatives, so ask and answer these questions honestly to find the right way forward.

Your Bookstore Needs a Business Plan

You will need to clearly define how you’re going to run your bookstore business, market yourself, get sales, make a profit and grow. This can only come about through creating a watertight business plan. It will help you get your thinking in order and show your commitment to your bookstore business.

You will also need to look at financial projections for your bookstore business. What are your expected sales and revenues? What is your profitability? How much money will you keep in the business to grow it? How much will you pay yourself and others?

Business plans do vary slightly, but they should all cover the following areas:

Here’s what you can expect in an average day
  • 1 An executive summary with the most important points from your business plan
  • 2 Your goals and what you hope to achieve with your bookstore business
  • 3 A description of your bookstore business, background information and context
  • 4 A market analysis and likely demand
  • 5 An overview of how your bookstore business is structured
  • 6 Your business model
  • 7 How you will market and sell your offerings
  • 8 Financial projections, revenue and profitability
  • 9 Appendice

Choose the Right Business Structure and Register Your Bookstore Business

Now that you have all the background information for your bookstore, it’s time to make it into a reality. That starts by choosing the right structure or “legal entity” for your business. In the U.S., there are five main business structures. They are:

Choose the Right Business Structure and Register Your Amazon Business

Sole Proprietorship

If you don’t choose to form a legal business entity for your bookstore business, you will be a sole proprietor by default. This won’t give you the legal protections you need, so we do not recommend this.

Limited Liability


Similar to a sole proprietorship, if you go into business with someone else without forming a legal business entity, you will be treated as a partnership. This doesn’t give you limited liability protections, so we don’t recommend it for your bookstore business.

Series LLC

Limited Liability Company or LLC

This is the most common type of business entity. An LLC is fast, simple and inexpensive to set up and maintain. It protects your personal finances and assets and is a great way to start your bookstore business.

S Corporation

S Corporation

This is a more complex type of business that isn't generally recommended for smaller organizations, though you might explore the benefits if your bookstore business grows.

C Corporation

C Corporation

These are the largest and most complex types of businesses and are typically far more than the average entrepreneur or bookstore owner will need.

For more information on the advantages and disadvantages of different types of businesses, please see our in-depth guide. If you’ve still got questions, we’ve answered them to help you choose the right business structure for your bookstore business.

In most cases, our recommendation for your bookstore business would be to create an LLC. We’ve got a complete guide to everything you need to do. LLC formation does vary from state to state, but we’ve got you covered, wherever you are.

Setting Up Your Bookstore Business Operations

Once you've legally created your bookstore business, you’ll need to get some other things in place.

location your business

Location of Your Bookstore

The location of your bookstore will be vital. You’ll need somewhere that has good passing traffic with enough space so you can display a decent selection of books. You’ll also need storage space for your inventory. Talk to other local business owners to establish the best places in your city and inquire with commercial real estate agents so you can figure your lease and rental costs into your business plan.

Stock and Equipment for Bookstores

You will need a fair amount of fixtures, fittings, equipment and inventory to get going. You’ll need to furnish your store, including bookshelves and displays. You’ll also need a cash register and a counter for taking payment. You may need to carpet and paint the space, and you will also need a good stock of books.


Marketing Your Bookstore

Marketing will be a huge part of your bookstore business. Naturally, you will need an awesome website, but you'll also need to get branding, newsletters, digital ads, social media accounts and other channels in place. You should leverage your local community offerings in your marketing to make your bookstore attractive to your niche customers.

Software and Processes

Bookstore entrepreneurs make extensive use of software; see our great list of the top apps at the end of this guide.

software and process


You may not need employees to begin with, especially if you’re operating on a low budget. As your bookstore expands and becomes more popular, consider taking on some part-time help to cover busy periods. You may also hire temporary employees during busy times of year like the holidays.

Finances and Taxes

You will need a separate business bank account for your bookstore business. You might also want to consider a business credit card. Additionally, you will also need to keep careful bookkeeping records and file business and personal taxes. Here at Incfile we can even help you file your taxes.

finances & taxes
Our Start a Business Checklist will get your business going in the best possible way.


With the right approach and customer relationships, your bookstore could be a huge success. Identify your niche, build your community, provide an excellent service and get your marketing right — that way you’ll get noticed and can share your love of books with everyone. Good luck!