Celebrating Independent Bookstore Day 2019: How much do local, independent bookstores make?

In this article:

  • How much local independent bookstores make on an average day
  • Which cities were home to the most successful independent bookstores
  • The biggest days of the year for bookstores
  • The average week for bookstore sales
  • How big is independent bookstore day?
  • How to attract more customers to your bookstore

For the past several years, the last Saturday in April marks Independent Bookstore Day. It’s a day meant to honor and recognize the importance of small, local bookstores everywhere.

In spite of the growth of online retail giants and massive national chains, local and independent bookstores remain a staple of Main Streets across the country. Which made us wonder, how much do local and independent bookstores make? When are they busiest? And if you own or manage an independent bookstore, what can you do to compete in today’s increasingly digital world?

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To answer these questions and more, we analyzed transaction data at over 1,100 independent bookstores across the country for all of 2018. Let’s take a look at what we learned.

How much do local independent bookstores make on an average day?

We first looked at the average day, throughout the year, for all independent bookstores across the country. We found that, on average, independent bookstores brought in $697 in revenue on a given day. The average location processed 14 transactions per day, with customers spending an average of $48.24 per transaction.

We also took a look at which cities were home to independent bookstores that did particularly well. Durham, North Carolina topped the list of cities we analyzed, with bookstores in the college town bringing in 148% more than the national average.

Durham bookstores owed their success to consistently high foot traffic, processing an average of 48 transactions per day (at a below national average ticket price of $36.47 per transaction). In fact, of the top five cities on our list, all but one more than doubled the national average of 14 daily transactions. (Houston bookstores averaged 17 transactions per day, but bookworms in Space City spent an average of $70.84 per transaction, which was enough to skyrocket Houston up the charts).

Omaha, Nebraska was home to the busiest bookstores in our study, averaging 51 transactions per day. Enough to put Omaha in the top ten in spite of average per-transaction ticket falling 52% below the national average.

The city where people spent the most per-transaction? That’d be Washington, DC. Bookstores in the District saw shoppers spend a whopping $92 per transaction on average.

When looking at cities home to the bookstores that bring in the most total revenue each day, however, it’s clear that consistently high foot traffic is key.

What are the busiest days of the year for independent bookstores?

Next we looked at sales trends throughout the year to determine what times of the year independent bookstores did the most business. Total revenue for all bookstores was mostly consistent from week-to-week throughout the year, with 3 distinct exceptions.

Local bookstores start the year off with a boost in revenue during mid-January. Perhaps thanks to millions of Americans eager to make good on their New Year’s Resolutions to read more.

Revenue then falls to consistent levels until August, as back to school shopping season sees bookstores experiencing their busiest month of the year. Finally, bookstores close out the year on a high note with the Holiday shopping season bringing the second biggest spike in sales.

The top five single-biggest days of the year for independent bookstores also reflect these trends. Black Friday might be the time to buy hot new gadgets, but books are clearly a last-minute shopper’s go-to, as three of the top four days of the year all falling within a few days of Christmas.

Which days of the week do bookstores make the most money?

Looking at revenue performance over a given week shows that bookstores bring in consistent revenue throughout the week. Until Sundays, that is, when 54% of independent bookstores keep their doors closed for the day.

A closer look shows that bookstores process fewer transactions on weekdays, but at a higher average purchase price. Meanwhile, weekends saw heavier foot traffic but with lower average ticket prices. This suggests that the most dedicated bookworms, who buy more books or pricier prints, make up a bigger percentage of weekday purchases. Saturdays, on the other hand, are much more likely to see a greater variety of customers and purchase.

How big is Independent Bookstore Day for independent bookstores?

So what about Independent Bookstore Day? Does a day created to generate excitement and good will for our country’s independent bookstores result in big sales for local businesses?

The answer is, it depends.

At a national level, Independent Bookstore Day looks like just another average day, with local bookstores across the country experiencing just a 3% average bump in revenue vs. the average day.

But when we looked a state by state view of performance during last year’s Independent Book Store Day, it’s clear that some businesses did celebrate the day with big sales.

Kansas bookstores had the biggest Independent Bookstore Day, pulling in 151% more revenue on that day than on a typical day in the Sunflower State. But, as the chart above shows, 12 states had bookstores bring in 30% or more than the typical day during Independent Bookstore Day. This would suggest that local bookstores who go the extra mile to bring attention to Independent Bookstore Day can use the day to drive more customers in the door.

How to attract more customers to your independent bookstore

Looking at the performance of independent bookstores across the country and throughout the year shows that, contrary to popular opinion, the local independent bookstore is far from dead.

While big box and online book sellers still dominate the national landscape, independent bookstores have the ability to foster deep and personal loyalty from their customers. If you own or manage a local bookstore, it’s vital that you know as much as you can about the industry and your customers as possible. And a good marketing plan for your independent book store can make a huge difference in where your bookstore stacks up against the national average and your local competition alike.

Make sure you’re taking advantage of peak seasons like new years, back to school, and the holidays. Look for special events like Independent Bookstore Day that you can use to generate excitement about supporting a local bookseller. And, finally, try investigating a business insights software solution so you can get smarter about your customers and their impact on your business. Sign up for a free demo to see how Womply can help you stop guessing and start knowing exactly how your business stacks up to the competition.

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