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Did You Know There’s a Franchised Chain of Used Bookstores?

195034140_031364cbd6_bWith their lower costs and quirky selection, used bookstores are finding niches in markets where big-box bookstores either throw in the towel or stop being bookstores.

Used bookstores are doing so well that there are even a couple chains, Half-Priced Books and 2nd & Charles. The last is owned by Books-a-Million, and is more of a used media store than used books (one moved into the space vacated by my local Borders store).

And now there’s a franchise chain of used bookstores. The Washington Post reports:

Sierra, 38, is a former Navy officer with an MBA and experience in government contracting. His new store, in a small strip mall on Georgia Avenue NW in Park View, is called Walls of Books, a chain started by ­Gottwals Books in Georgia. The company has opened eight locations since 2012, including one in New Orleans, and offers a training program for owners. The investment is significant: Start-up costs can approach $85,000.

Shane Gottwals, the chain’s co-founder, said some franchisees are fulfilling lifelong dreams to sell books. Others are in it solely for the money. All of them see unmet demand. “One of the first comments we hear is that the bookstore down the road closed, and there’s no place to buy books anymore,” Gottwals said. “It’s like having a museum or a theater. It’s a cultural center. It’s a place people want to go. And that’s why it’s a good investment.”

You can find more details on the franchise here.

The WaPo sees this as an unlikely comeback, but I don’t see how that could be. Used bookstores are thriving in part because they’re going where the customers are (online) and also because they have better margins than new bookstores.


The more established accounts that sell books on Amazon’s marketplace are all commercial operations (sometimes with no actual storefront). And while used books often sell for a lot less than new, the stores buy their stock at an even steeper discount. That, when combined with the lack of expectation to waste space on the latest buzzworthy release, changes the ballgame.

Speaking of the latest buzzworthy releases, one often overlooked source of used books are remaindered titles that did not sell when first released. Half or more of the print run for blockbuster titles by Patterson, Crichton, and other big-name authors are often shipped back from bookstores when sales slow down, and are either remaindered or pulped.

Most of those returned/remaindered books are fully refunded to the stores, so they don’t have a materiel cost. This is an SOP across much of consumer book sales, but there are times that I wonder just how much manpower the booksellers waste on this process. It’s an operating expense that the used bookstores don’t have, giving them another advantage.

Thanks to the internet, there’s a larger supply of used books than ever before, so really the surprise here is not the resurgence of physical used bookstores but that someone turned the idea into a franchise.

Franchises are common in many industries, including retail (especially restaurants), and even bookstores. I think Waldenbooks/Borders passed through that phase, and I know of a couple franchise bookstore chains in Australia.

But a used bookstore franchise?

That’s new to me. Does anyone know of other similar franchises?

images by dweekly, Ben+Sam

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Bill Bradford December 27, 2015 um 5:31 pm

Half-Price Books has been around for 15+ years, it’s not a new thing at all. I’ve never seen them outside of Texas, though.

Bill Bradford December 27, 2015 um 5:32 pm

Their website says they started in ’72 and are in 16 states.

neuse river sailor December 27, 2015 um 6:07 pm

Edward McKay is a chain of used book stores in North Carolina with exceptionally good selections at the three outlets I have visited. They seem to be thriving. The first store opened in Fayetteville in 1974 and that Camp Lejuene connection means all the stores have excellent military history selections.

fjtorres December 27, 2015 um 6:24 pm

This market is only news to the establishment media. And only to the extent that it feeds the "ebook fad is over thank the gods of publishing" zombie meme.

As for franchising used book stores?
Dunno what the franchise can bring to justify the cost. Somehow I don’t see them advertising used books on TV, like MacDonald’s or providing books by the truckload cheaper than the above-mentioned established used book stores.

I imagine the sales pitch goes like this: "Nobody can sell new books as cheaply as Amazon but you can sell used books instead. And we can help you plug into the top secret pipeline for nearly new books you can sell for half-list and still make a bundle."

Back in the 50s-60’s franchising everything was a fad. Wouldn’t surprise me if they tried franchising used books too.

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Ravi December 28, 2015 um 12:25 am

Annie’s Book Stop is a used-book chain that’s been around "forever" in my neck of the woods. I’d always presumed they were some sort of franchise.

R Coots December 28, 2015 um 7:29 am

I don’t know about franchised used book stores. I can say that second-hand bookstores have always been more useful to me than place that sell new books. But the stores themselves are interesting. Powells Books is a legend, and I’d love to go there some day.

There is a store in my old town, Anchorage, that took over a section of a strip mall a while back. It has more floorspace than B & N, and while Borders went under and B & N flounders, Title Wave is still keeping the place packed to the ceiling with books. A few knicknacks here and there yes, but books, books, books, every where you look. My new town? No used bookstore. Makes me want to cry. And shipping on a three dollar paperback in "good" condition from an Amazon third party seller isn’t usually something I want to risk.

fjtorres December 28, 2015 um 10:40 am

I’ve bought both good and (knowingly) bad condition used books via Amazon since the last century. 🙂
No problems at all.
The book in bad shape?
An ACE double from 1959. You expect the spine to crack on that. I was going to scan it so it was no problem.Most folks doing business online are honorable.
(And the middlemen keep them honest anyway.) 🙂

Bill December 30, 2015 um 5:17 am

Bookmans, with several outlets in Arizona. The best and most organized used bookstore I’ve ever been in.

Priscila Monteiro January 4, 2016 um 2:50 pm

In Brazil we have Estante Virtual: they have new books either, but it’s easy to find used books too.

Judy Wilson May 25, 2016 um 6:00 pm

It’s great that there’s a used bookstore franchise. I love reading physical copies of books, but buying them new can be pretty expensive. It seems that buying them gently used would be a much more affordable way to get the books that I want to add to my shelf.

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