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Ask HN: Know of a hacker in Cambridge or Boston who wants a bookstore?
112 points by mankins on Nov 25, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 104 comments
I started Lorem Ipsum Books 9 years ago with the belief that bookstores were an important part of our community--and that they needed to innovate in order to survive.

Freshly out of graduate school at MIT the bookstore was started with the notion that integrating Internet-sales into a traditional brick-and-mortar bookstore was the way forward for small retailers. Rather than run from technology, we were going to embrace it to provide a new sales channel. With a group of friends I built this new way forward, creating Lorem Ipsum Books in Inman Square, Cambridge.

Lorem Ipsum benefited from a custom-coded inventory system that automatically listed our inventory for sale at other online partners like Amazon.com. It was fun to use, efficient, and worked. For awhile there, it looked like this dual-listing was the answer to bookstore's problems. Then supply-ballooned, demand remained the same, and prices dropped.

We tried many things, but were unable to get the store from red to black.

They just deleted our Wikipedia page, citing progress as being 'unremarkable'. Clearly something has to be done...

It's time to innovate again.

The bookstore needs fresh ideas, a radical change in thinking, and a reimagining of the role of the bookstore in the future. I don't want to shut the store down, but may be forced to. Instead, I'm looking to pass the store to other keepers--other innovators--hands.

I write to Hacker News to ask if anyone knows anyone in the Cambridge or Boston area that would be interested in this project?

Trying to think creatively here...

Could you try to capitalize on the fact that you're right in between two enormous populations of PhD students and professors who are eager to both give talks and learn more?

Maybe you could support micro-publishing of books, or collections of interesting papers, for local distribution around Kendall/Harvard. Kind of like academic blogging but on paper.

Or you could host themed nights where a few academics give talks about why Subject X is interesting, and then you tell the audience they can buy/order books on Subject X from you at the end (and please do, it's how you pay for the free talk).

Also, I live right near Inman. You guys have the "Refrigerator Repairs" sign (or something like it) above your store, right? Hard honesty, from someone whose walked by many times and never gone in: the Refrigerator sign made me think you were a) too lazy to put up a sign for your store, or b) trying to be ironically lazy, which I think isn't a positive vibe to send to society. Either way, I transferred these impressions onto my expectations about the product waiting inside for me, and passed by every time. Perhaps that is a silly reason not to enter a book store, but at least it is a data point for you to consider.


Another idea: what if you provided a nice binding service for graduating PhD students. Package up all your papers and thesis together into a nice volume to show the kids one day. I know you can do this online, but you would provide nice Harvard and MIT themed leather book jackets with some stock material about the school or department history, along with a thicker page for the student to put some photos in from that time period. I would pay $100 for this. Maybe $200 if it was really nice. There's no class ring for PhD students, but this would make a similarly nostalgic memento.

>You guys have the "Refrigerator Repairs" sign (or something like it) above your store, right?

Google Street Maps view:


> Or you could host themed nights where a few academics give talks about why Subject X is interesting, and then you tell the audience they can buy/order books on Subject X from you at the end (and please do, it's how you pay for the free talk).

Only issue is why they would come to a book store to do this rather than do this sort of thing at MIT or Stanford. Maybe, integrate a coffee/snacks/cosy reading room along with book store?

I think you should host the talks in the style of a traditional "salon." It would be a social gathering with food and drink that also happens to let people expand their horizons.

> There's no class ring for PhD students, but this would make a similarly nostalgic memento.

While I can't internet-verify it, one of my Spanish co-PhD students told me that in Spain you _are_ given a ring upon completion. It's supposedly to signify your marriage to science. I think my wife would have something to say about that...

Just another data point: I've walked by on the other side of the street a few times and assumed you were closed/out of business because of the refrigerator repairs sign.

Have you thought about adding coworking space? I would kill for a bookstore environment with coffee and decent chairs. As it is, I do most of my work in a Barnes and Noble, and my back hates me for it.

I like this idea. I'll pay for a space like that too.

Someone else IS innovating. They're printing out of print books for a tidy fee. What's remarkable is that so many books are unavailable once they've run. That is publishers are incentived to destroy rather than keep books which don't immediately sell due to tax laws.

Research that and look around at other book stores. You'll find the one doing it.


The machine is so expensive. The lease on it is more than our rent. It works for that store because of its location.

A hacker-publisher friend does "print-on-demand" the simple way; a high-end laser printer plus a high-end perfect binder and cutter. I think they kept their equipment costs down below $10K. The standalone machines don't do much besides print and bind and I believe cost much more.

This is a solution for a low print run rather one-of-kind printing but it works for him.

In the realm of thesis printing, you pay 10 to 22 cents per monochrome side, plus about $30 for perfect binding (plus shipping, and any surcharges for fast turnaround). So printing Strousup's 900 page "The C++ Programming Language" costs $130+ and printing something slimmer like "The Art of Computer Programming, Volume 4 Fascile 4" costs $40+. New from Amazon those would cost $55 and $15 respectively.

If you can get your prices competitive, there might be an opportunity for you in thesis printing.

If you could get your prices so low that a professor with a ready-to-go textbook in PDF form could get it printed on demand cheaper than going through regular publishers and college bookstores, that would be a big opportunity right there. By all accounts college textbooks in America are very expensive, but neither authors nor publishers admit to making much profit, so presumably there's a lot of inefficiency there. Could be ripe for disruption.

Is it possible that because it's so expensive, you could make it yourself for a much better return on investment?

Is it so expensive that you could burn out three cheap laser printers a month for a fraction of the cost? What if it was one moderately expensive printer every two months?

What if you had a Raspberry Pi managing your print queue across multiple networked printers and you bind them with a surplus GBC machine? You could keep a supply of "nice" pre-printed covers available to wrap around books when they're ready.

One nice thing about this is that you could start small, and scale fairly easily. Use human labour (that's already running the shop) to fill in the gaps in automation.

It might be worth looking at Don Lancaster's web site (tinaja.com) for some thoughts on how to do this stuff before any pre-packaged solutions existed (look for "print-on-demand" resources).

I like bookstores a lot. I hope you'll be able to find a way to make it work for you!

Thanks for the ideas. Last I looked into this (a few years ago now) it was the binding part that I didn't know how to do.

I'd love to find someone who wants to get involved and do just what you describe.

Pick up a publishing magazine, they have companies that advertize perfect bindign equipment for a few thousand dollars that only costs a few dollars per unit to use.

I may or may not have some insider info on this service, and I can tell you that they are still losing money on the machine. It's cool and it makes them seem different, but the demand isn't big enough to make them actual money.

If I want to buy a book, i'll go to Amazon and buy it. With kindle, i'll have it in 10 seconds. If its not available on Kindle with Prime i'll have it next day. You can't compete with Amazon. So its not worth trying.

If you want to run a remarkable book store today, don't sell books. That's a loosing battle. This is where i'd start if I was trying to think of ways to innovate in this space. I'm sure you're familiar with Porter square books. They for instance have built a pretty remarkable community around the store with book clubs etc.

Other then that, i'd like to say good luck! I live in Boston, so i'll try to visit the next time i'm in the neighborhood.

Or maybe only sell ebooks. Offer good coffee and advice on books, get a referral fee for ebooks?

Browsing on Amazon sucks. If you know what you want it is OK, but for discovery there is still room for improvement.

Strange that this is the only other comment mentioning referral fees.

If it helps, I upvoted your other comment :-) If I had a cafe, I'd love to try the referral thing. There has to be some solution for the future that makes it possible to go to a shop, pick a nice book and sit down with a coffee.

Their goal should be a strong marketing push in a niche market, specifically focusing on the community, as there's plenty of room for players in the space. There are a lot of people who hate Amazon (not really sure why; hatred of the big guys, I suppose?) enough to allow for these competitors to thrive. I think Powell Books in Portland is a great example of such.

I get your point but I don't think you articulated it effectively.

When it comes to physical stores, the general rule is "location location location", and just based on having lived near Cambridge for a decade and spent most of my time there Inman Sq just feels like a suboptimal location for a bookstore.

This is assuming of course that a problem is getting more traffic. I don't know if that's an issue, or if the problem is the "conversion rate". It would be interesting to find out what's working and what isn't, but don't know if you're inclined to share further. Myself I'm not in a position to take over, but I sure can provide free advice :>

I've always dreamed of hybrid book store/coffee shops. Perhaps ones that sell subscription access, becoming for-pay lending libraries with a book inventory that adjusts to patron demands. That way you have recurring revenue off each customer, and you can hope people sign up for it like they do for gym memberships and then don't show :)

I have a coffee shop / book store hybrid near me, I think it's brilliant. I don't always buy books there, but when I do I've usually purchased a latte as well and spend part of the day reading it there.

One of the keys is having a lot of comfortable chairs (like B&N used to). I used to go to B&N all the time, read half a book and purchase it.

Places for book geeks like me are shrinking quickly.

I like that idea of the lending library. I wonder if it would work... I guess there's only one way to find out: try.

>> I guess there's only one way to find out: try.

I like the lending library / coffee shop notion as well, and if you don't have a lot of runway to try this, you might be able to put out a signup sheet asking people to pre-commit to a multi-month membership up front - if there's not enough interest there to keep you afloat (or get you close), try something else. Should serve to at least get baseline validation on the concept before you sink any real time / money / effort into it.

Consider using www.shelflet.com to lend or rent out your inventory to your customers...its a book rental marketplace.

My god ... I love Lorem Ipsum. Every damn time I get into inman, I pay a visit there. Thank you for introducing me into zines and having an awesome CS/Math/Sci section. All your books are so damn well curated.

I wish could help more directly, but I'm steadily approaching broke and determined to be working full-time on my own project till my money runs out.

In any case, I'd love to buy you a coffee / tea / beer / whatever and just chat with you for an hour, your pick of time and place. Best case, you could refine some of my crazy ideas. Worst case, you'll have had an hour break. What's there to lose? E-mail is in my profile! :)

I'm the founder of Litographs.com and I live around the block from Lorem Ipsum. Have you thought about selling literary t-shirts, posters, etc.?

http://www.luminarygraphics.com/ http://outofprintclothing.com/ http://bagladiestea.com/novel-tea.html http://www.us.penguingroup.com/pages/shop/the_penguin_collec...

Have you perhaps considered a book scanner? You can then sell books and for an additional fee turn the book into a DRM free PDF the user can read electronically. You don't sell digital copies online just give the reader the book they bought in store. This way the reader can read the book physically or by a tablet.

I would pay for this service.

I have a bookcase full of textbooks of $60-$120 a piece that I'd love to have digitized for like 10-20 bucks per kindle-readable book.

Rebuying it on Amazon usually costs the same ridiculously high price or higher, and the books aren't always prepared nicely either.

I think this is actually a great business idea. Imagine you could just send in, or drop off books that you then receive in DRM free glorious PDF or other nice e-book formats.

Would it work legally?

edit: wtf there's a community built around book scanning http://www.diybookscanner.org/

There is a company that does this. They were very successful in Japan and opened an office in San Jose a few years ago - http://1dollarscan.com - be sure to read the FAQ. They can also do OCR on the book content which makes it searchable and possible to do copy/paste. As far as I can tell what they do is the normal graphical scan of a page, and then underlay that with text. When you select over the page it picks up the text, but when you read you see the graphical original.

Note that they destroy the books in the process of scanning them (spine is cut off) and then they dispose of the books to avoid copyright and similar issues.

The main advantage of an electronic copy is the ability to search and highlight/copy text. If they are just scanned images, you lose this ability.

Plus, Google Books is going to do a much better job than a local book store.

Modern scanners will produce a 'searchable PDF' comprised of two layers - OCRed text below, scanned image on top. So you get the search and copy ability of OCRed text, but not the loss of presentation and formatting that comes with using OCR alone. As with any OCR, you do get occasional mis-transcribed words.

Google Books doesn't let you download an entire DRM free book to your Kindle, does it?

Hi. i am interested in speaking with you. My company has been looking for interesting projects in the physical space to take on... and we are currently amassing books for a library... Can you give me your email address or email me at Ben @ socialprintstudio.com Looking forward to speaking!


Have you considered branching out into related areas, like games? I'm talking European-style and other board games and similar... things where physical location still matters.

That's interesting. We've thought of many things, but not that. I'll pass it along.

A concept that works very well in college areas that I've seen is called "Snakes and Lattes". Basically a coffeeshop that has plenty of seating for playing board games. I've seen it work with bubbletea places as well. Seems to drive a lot of traffic by word of mouth due to its cooperative nature.

That sounds cool. Apparently "Snakes and Lattes" is a cafe in Toronto with this theme, whereas I was thinking of it as being a weekly event.

edit: Overall, I think selling coffee would definitely be a good idea, though this would require someone with that type of experience in order to deliver a valuable product.

One issue with this is that selling board games suffers some of the same issues as selling books. It is very easy for someone to buy one online for very cheap. Plus there isn't as much of a secondhand market.

In addition in the area there are a few stores that sell board games that are already established. Off the top of my head I can think of two in Cambridge. Pandemonium Books and Games and Games People Play.

I second this recommendation. I hardly ever go into a used book store, except when I know they also sell boardgames and I want to try out a boardgame before purchase. Plus, it's a lot of fun.

Any chance you'd consider making book sales a smaller part of what your store does in favor of other sources of revenue? One of the few things brick-and-mortar shops can do that Amazon still can't is bring people together, to Be A Place. You can.

A few ideas to consider along those lines, either individually or as smaller pieces of a larger concept:

- Become a hacker/student-centric coffee shop that enables freelancers, et al, to work in a less frenetic environment than Starbucks

- (Not sure how big your space is, but) Build a small stage (or not) and host local singers and poets as well as professor and/or student talks

- Become a resource for finding hard-to-get books and charge a premium for it

- Host book sales, etc., for the local universities where students can buy/sell from each other, then give a small discount on books students are searching for but can't find at the sale

Not sure how intent you are on maintaining the store's identity as a Place That Sells Books, but you have a lot of options, I think, if you want to go in another direction altogether – or even partly.

I think there is always a need for more hacker/startup community spaces in Boston/Cambridge; especially ones that are not coworking spaces/offices.

There can always be more events too.

How about hosting an in-person brand/biz hack of the store?

Your comment reminds me of a segment of Urbanized, the documentary [1], in which a young woman, Candy Chang [2], creates a simple system for enabling citizens to voice their opinions on what should be done with vacant buildings in varying states of disrepair.

She created vinyl stickers that read "I Wish This Was", under which is a blank white space (resembling the My Name Is stickers common to networking events, etc.). She affixes a grid of the stickers to the building/scaffolding/whatever along with a Sharpie, and folks passing by write their suggestions on the stickers.

For me, what makes her idea so incredible is that the suggestions are made in context; they're not discussed at a town hall meeting miles away from the location, they're not submitted online in a fancy web app, and they're not handed down by local government among suggestions for hundreds of other plots.

It's great that OP is asking on HN, because I think (s)he'll get some great responses here, but the best place to ask might be in the space itself, in the company of the folks that make it more than Some Bookstore In Massachusetts Ripe For a Pivot.

Why not host an event to discuss the future of the store? Send invitations to professors and post flyers for students at local universities and see what happens. It can't hurt, right?

1. http://urbanizedfilm.com 2. http://candychang.com/i-wish-this-was/


I think you're in the right part of the Venn diagram. Selling physical books in a physical store as the business is probably disappearing.

Doing "something else" (exercise for the reader, sorry) that offers something book-related as one of many services is probably where the future of non-Amazon book business will be.

A work-space with services ...

My idea is to run "sponsored book clubs".

You sell a popular or interesting book at a slight discount for the duration of the book club run. (Maybe a discount just for members who paid an up-front fee?) You do a weekly discussion group, one per chapter of the book. Run multiple books per week, catering to different crowds (e.g. ultra technical vs old sci-fi). Set up some reasonable video and audio equipment, experiment with the format, and try to capture the "sitting around with a group of smart people" feel.

While the club is running, make those videos available online with a discussion forum (also experiment here -- with one topic per chapter, or posts grouped by smart tags or something). After the club has run, you sell a "book club" package for every book you've done this for. Sell it at a reasonably higher price with a DVD of the discussion sessions and an archive of the forum session. In a year, you'll end up with a hopefully rabid community and a reputation, as well as a growing catalogue of copyrighted material which makes your products unique and justifies a higher price.

The core idea here has come up repeatedly: membership in a community is important. Having a place to go feel like a hacker or just a smart person and meet other smart people is wonderful. You should sell that; the books are just an excuse. Heck, you could even just try running a paid-membership library.

edit: reading back over my message, some different themes also stuck out: minimum products, iterating, and pivoting. The ideas I proposed are really a loose collection of possibly money-generating schemes built around community and creating value. You can quickly start doing any (or all) of these, then iterating and pivoting as necessary. This is the common small business pattern: start a few small projects, see what's drawing people and money, then regularly optimize according to your senses of what you need most at the moment.

I love Lorem Ipsum and remember when you guys moved a few years ago. (I used to live literally across the street.) I enjoyed buying used books at your store and that you would sometimes haggle over the price. But I doubt I have spent more than $80 there.

I don't know anything about the bookstore business except that it is tough. I was sad when Quantum Books closed, and their books were a lot more expensive than yours, and they were right next to MIT and sold a lot of textbooks to students.

Do you know the proprietors of Brookline Booksmith or Harvard Bookstore? I assume they are still making it, and maybe there are some ideas or principles here that would help that you guys could learn. They have a lot of readings and signings and events that I imagine help get people in the stores.

(I do sort-of-know Ken and Frenchie, the proprietors of the "banned in Boston" outdoor free book table that sometimes sets up in Harvard Square, but I'm guessing that introduction would not help you...)

Stores like Brookline Booksmith and Harvard Book Store are barely making it too, but they have the name recognition to keep them going. Mainly, they pay their employees well below living wage with the promise of more "once the store starts making money again."

Hi there. I'm Ben Mauer, a board member of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives (http://usworker.coop) as well as the Boston Area Worker Owned and Run Network.

I think that Lorem Ipsum, with a pivot in offerings (coffee, books, games), could be an extremely successful worker cooperative or multi-stakeholder cooperative (with worker-owners and consumer-owners). It has many elements that would make it successful, most notably its beloved status.

I'd be very happy to help you think through the possibilities of keeping Lorem Ipsum a truly community-oriented institution that is resilient and has a sustainable stream of capital from consumer-investors.

Feel free to get in touch with me via http://quilted.coop. I also have access to a lot of resources that could help in the transition, from funding to technical assistance. Get in touch!

Have you sent an email to Philip Greenspun? He definitely has the connections in Cambridge to people who may be interested in this or could help. He's probably bought books from Lorem Ipsum in the past: http://philip.greenspun.com/

Have you considered running it as a co-op? I think odds are low one person (or entity) would want to buy it outright, but you might be able to get 100 people to buy a stake of it. Just a thought!

Similarly, maybe it could have a future as a not-for-profit entity?

I'd be open to either. A big problem is that I live in NYC now, and haven't been able to be involved in the day-to-day events like I once was. I'm looking for someone--or a group--to step into that place.

I was in a really cool bookstore in Broadstairs in England recently that doubles as a pub. The building was originally a church (hence its name - The Chapel: http://www.pubsandbeer.co.uk/index.php?ID=P&pub=3021 ), then a bookstore, and now a hybrid bookstore/cafe/pub. During the day it felt like a cafe/wine bar, with people sitting around having coffee or wine & cheese while reading books/newspapers. At night it felt more like a pub (albeit a fairly chilled out one). They had loads of local beers - they even had live music. Could you go for something similar?

Cater to the gaming community, host gaming nights.

Partner with schools or professors to have students buy school texts only available at your store.

Reconfigure your space to include a living quarters for visiting lecturers or artists. Have them earn their keep by leading discussions or giving a reading.

Have a large used and new graphic novel section. Buy used graphic novels at 33% cost or 50% credit.

Organize your bookshelves using the Library of Congress Classification System.

Get a housecat, name it something amazingly cute, the tweet advertisement for sales from POV of the cat using funny catspeak.

Invest in an outside sitting area or patio style backyard.

Rent out half of your store space to the United States Post Office.

Good Luck!

I tend to walk into (South African) bookstores to buy Wired's UK edition and browse books for a while until I know what else I'd like to read.

At that point I write down the book's title and later download it for my Kindle. I've often thought that bookstores should have QR-codes with amazon referral links that make my purchases easier.

Sure, a referral isn't as much income as a physical book sale, but I really can't amass any more "real" books, since I want to stay mobile. I'm sure I'm not the only one using bookstores just for their coffee shop and easier browsing.

I was chatting with my Dad about how hard it is for indie retailers to compete with the Internet, but its doable. You're not selling a product anymore, you're selling an experience. The product is cheaper elsewhere so focus on giving the customer a reason to come in, book clubs, readings, comfy chairs, group spaces and so on. Books are an important part of our culture but going against Amazon now is nigh on impossible for, but Amazon sucks for discovery and recommendations so there's still scope.

One small bookstore I know that is doing well is Borderland Books in San Francisco.

Borderlands is hyperfocused. I'd suggest you need to be MORE focused, your stock is spread out. I'd suggest you drop every area you're not amazing with.

You need instore events that draws in the people who read your new more focused stock. Borderlands has a constant stream of author readings, signing etc. that bring people into their store.

I can't tell if you're doing this, but you need to be selling outside of your bookstore at trade shows, speaker events etc. When the Grand Rapids economic club has a speaker who has written a book, our local store has a table full of them for sale and clears $3-800 per event in sales.

Borderlands made a fundraising appeal to their customers a few years ago. The pitch was invest in us with a Gift Certificate that can't be redeemed for a year, but got a discount when used. It gave them a nice slug of working capital while they were expanding and more than a few customers dedided to simply hold onto the certificates to support the store they loved.

You also really need to take a sharp look at you business, figure out what bits contribute and what parts don't. Some basic business analysis can often do wonders for a business.

This doesn't help pay the bills, but I lived right down the street from you a couple years back and loved your bookstore.

Have you looked into textbooks? There's a lot of money in the textbook market right now (for a variety of reasons). Won't help your storefront business, but could help on the internet side. I work in the industry; feel free to email if you want to chat more about the textbook side of the industry :)

Thanks we did textbooks awhile back when we had a warehouse, but dropped them. The industry seemed to be changing too rapidly to understand. Tx for the help offer, all appreciated.

I too was originally confused by the "Refrigerator Repairs" sign! :-)

I've been working on a model for a bookstore for a couple of years. The key is attracting people to the space. Repeatedly. And once you have them there offer rewards for reading and buying books. If I'm in your bookstore drinking a delicious coffee and munching on a stuffed croissant and you offer a discount on the very book I've been meaning to read for a while, I'll buy it.

The space is filled with books, smells amazing (that sacred dusty book smell mixed with bakery and coffee smells), has comfy seating, games to play, plenty of plugs (charge for electricity rather than wifi), free fresh baked cookies(on the spot wafflecookies) with any purchase of a book (cannot be purchased separately!). There are various intellectual events, reading marathons, contests, and talks that attract interesting people. It's a space you want to be in, to bring your friends to, and you keep spending money there.

It's more than just a bookstore or a cafe or a co-working space though. It's a place that promotes books and reading, connecting people intellectually. A "membership" offers various rewards but also frictionlessly offers reading suggestions and also communal reading/commenting. Not necessarily a reading club... If you are proud of the books you've read and/or have an interesting opinion/interpretation or have questions, a common discussion space/online/app interaction space helps make this easy and comfortable for any level of socializing.

I and two of my close friends (we're all CS people) have been looking for opportunities to try our ideas out, and to learn about others' experiences. Looks like you've had a great response here but if you're still looking for ideas / a group of people with a lot of energy and ideas, let me know, I'm always in the area at some cafe or another! :-)

My parents have run a bookstore for 30 years, and I spent most of my late elementary school years and all of high school running it after school and on the weekends. It was and still is a very large (100,000 books) bookstore and now also a full restaurant (restaurant downstairs, bookstore upstairs -- in a 6,000 square foot space). Now, I work in tech.

Like your store, they also sell on Amazon, ABE Books, Alibris, etc. however, the majority of their revenue comes from people browsing in-store.

I'm not from Boston and haven't been to Lorem Ipsum but I have read that it's a great store based on reviews online.

But before thinking about fresh ideas, I'm curious to know where the problem stems from: are you not able to get enough people through your doors? are they browsing but not buying? what type of profit margin do you have on books generally (obviously this will differ depending on the type of book, etc)? Also, what is the demographic like where your store is located -- are there readers who will come in and buy a stack of books?

I truly believe there will continue to be a market for physical books, especially used, out-of-print, rare and aesthetically beautiful books that you crave to touch (ie. photography, cooking, art, etc.).

Despite working in tech, being 26, and having 3 iPads in my possession, I will continue to buy tangible books for that immersive, tangible experience.

What is dying, in my opinion, is this concept of going to a bookstore to find a particular item. The future of bookstores lies in the serendipitous discovery, particularly of books that offer some sort of aesthetic value, out-of-print, rare, etc. rather than rushing out to a local bookstore to buy the latest Stephen King, which will be consumed over a weekend.

Anyway, my point is that while yes, fresh ideas can tweak the ability to drive traffic, I think it's worth investigating those fundamental questions and whether you're well located to attract those with the disposable income who can spend $100 impulsively, that you're maximizing your profit margin, and whether you have the right stock that will covert browsers into buyers and attract people to come back.

Also think about opening up a coffee shop or something else that people will come to regularly to serve as a sort of lead generator to get people in the door. It could also be a book club, event, musician, etc. It doesn't need to generate much profit -- it needs to get people in the door who will then browse and buy books which, if planned properly, should have a VERY high profit margin (even while offering what look like bargain prices to customers).

Good luck and please hang in there! I hope next time I'm in Boston to be able to come and visit.

In Washington, DC, the independent stores that hang on have a defined community. Kramerbooks at Dupont Circle has the young urban types mostly (I'm probably twice the age of at least a third of people I see in it). Politics and Prose has the settled folk of Chevy Chase and Forest Hills, with their children. Bridge Street Books on the edge of Georgetown--I don't get there often enough to judge, but would guess it to be nearer the Kramerbooks demographic, though the stock makes me wonder. (There are also used bookstores that seem to stay in business.)

So who is your audience? Have you the room to provide a place where people can gather to sip a coffee and use your WiFi, buy their NY Times from you, do the occasional impulse buy? I would emphasize this last. Of the last ten books I've bought, the majority have been unplanned purchases, something on a shelf (Kramerbooks, Second Story) or a table (a local church bazaar) that I didn't know I wanted till I saw it.

Many used books are not all that appealing on Amazon since they do not include free shipping. If you can get close to those prices but people only have to drop by the store rather than pay for inefficient shipping (it's usually not two day like most are used to with Prime) it could be compelling. The hardest thing of course is building awareness of your offering. I've never been to your store but have heard great things. Why have I never been? Well I live in Boston and I honestly cannot remember the last time I bought a book in a bookstore. I suppose I'm not your target customer and I think the challenge will be indetifying precisely who that is and considering if they are enough to run a sustainable business.

I think labors of love can be foolish but at the same time I have the utmost respect for them. Best of luck. I will be stopping in sometime soon.

Two random ideas:

- Is there any kind of alliance to be had with Albertine Press? ( http://albertinepress.com/about.html ) I'm not sure what the angle would be exactly, but they're just a few blocks away, and might have equipment and expertise that would allow for a more interesting kind of print-on-demand than the Espresso printer. And if bookstores are increasingly becoming fellow travelers with letterpress printers and vinyl shops and so on, maybe there are strategies in common.

- Others have mentioned affiliate fees. If book stores are no longer efficient ways to store and deliver books, but are still great ways to look at and play with and explore books, is it possible to fully transition to a book showroom instead of store? How would the business change if you were no longer thinking in terms of inventory, but only in terms of sample copies? You obtain exactly one copy of the very best books that fit comfortably in your space; the customer collects ones they like; and then they're scanned at the front desk, searched online, and the cheapest available copies of the quality they request are shipped to their address. So customers are getting Amazon prices (or better, because you might be better at running the search than they are), but the experience of discovering physical books. You could pay for it either with affiliate fees, if there's a program that works, or with a surcharge.

If you went down that path, your focus on the supply side would change from acquiring second-hand books, to finding really interesting ways to discover books. For example, shelves where you can flip through the top-ten favorite books of Bill Clinton, or Neil Gaiman, or Natalie Portman, or David Foster Wallace. Cyberpunk shelf curated by Neil Stephenson (with a blurb taped inside each cover if he'll write one!). Law & Tech shelf curated by Larry Lessig. Books by TED presenters. Make it so poking around the store is itself a learning experience.

Good luck -- I hope you manage to find someone, and their ideas are better than mine.

Matt -

I too am a fan of bookstores and used bookstores have much more cachet than the surviving big box stores. The trick is to encourage your patrons to financially support the place that they love. I would be interested in exploring the opportunity further. I have been involved in the purchase, sale and turnaround of several businesses. Each of those processes is daunting in its own right. To be faced with a transfer and a turnaround concurrently will be difficult but not impossible. If you are interested in an exploratory conversation, I would be glad to do so as well. I would be interested on several levels including as a buyer, partner with others or as a consultant. My email is jfburke619@gmail.com

Good luck, John

It seems to me that the store needs to add big ticket items in its reinvention. I'm thinking...futons. And, affordable, cool, cozy chairs, maybe desks, and lamps. Items that college students, for instance, always need for dorms, new apartments. Anything at or slightly above IKEA quality and around that price range could generate sales, especially with delivery service. Local artisans could provide cool pillows, pictures, linens--not a whole lot, but really well curated. The "showroom" is where people can sit and read the books, attend cozy events. This is what I would want to try, if I were you... but, very best of luck, in any case! --Maureen E.

Surely there are lots of ways your book store could continue to innovate. You may need to move beyond being just a book store to something more social & digital but maybe that's what it will take. People are using book shops in a different kind of way now. It used to be that the local book store was quicker, while with online sales you had to wait a few days but it was cheaper. Now you can have any book in front of you, including a free sample chapter 24/7.

I still love to support my local independent book shop but I'm reading more than ever now but the last 5 books I read weren't even in printed format. It's time to compete in a different way.

As several people have mentioned, I feel like the major win of using a local bookstore as opposed to Amazon is the social space it provides. I remember reading somewhere that in NYC bookstores were becoming places were smart single people could meet other smart single people.

Perhaps you could view books as a reason to be there, but not what you sell. A relaxed, wifi-heavy, comfy chair social space where you make your margins off selling coffee and sandwiches. Maybe even let people read the books without buying them. Keep a conversation going. Have visiting authors come and hang out. Like a cross between a library and a Starbucks.

Definitely optimizing the book enjoyment experience is promising (having cafes, book signings, etc). I think one part of quality book discovery is curating really hard to find, but awesome books. How many people would pilgrimage to a store to hear Noam Chomsky speak on language, or a Kennedy talk about politics, or one of Dr. King's descendents speak on racial relations and buy books? There are a lot of really great books that could be augmented by having more conversation around them. People would definitely pay high prices for books that are rare and insightful and the stories around those books.

I am a huge fan of your store. My suggestions: 1-Sell shirts and other physical things 2- My favotire thing about your store is that the cool stuff is easy to see.. Its curated. Well done. 3-Interact more with local entrepreneurs, and people like the Artisans Asylum. Maybe teach classes there. 4-Writing workshops? 5-Buy a MakerBot 3D printer and charge the public to use it? 6- That Egg machine is amazing. Someone should make a documentary about that. 7- Model after the Trident in Boston... Sell coffee, set up some wifi, and turn the store into a place where smart people want to hang out.

Great ideas, thanks. We can't sell coffee because the landlord prohibits it, but the rest are do-able.

I have been wondering about this. Online stores such as Amazon are killing the bookstores all over the world, obviously bookstores cant compete in price, however, one thing that I think will make bookstores stay, that is, if they stop selling books. Obviously, they cant compete in price, however, what if they start selling atmospheres?

Imagine having a membership to a place filled with books, and you can read all you want. Go inside the place, sit down, enjoy a cup of coffee, pick any book you like. You can even bring your laptop and work, it's like having a gym membership, but for your brain.

What do you guys think?

Is that more like a library + cafe?

Hmm. Just thinking out loud here.

What seems to be working for Pandemonium, just down the street, is event and community space -- for them it's board and collectible card games. For Porter Square Books, it's some combination of having a coffee shop and events (readings etc).

Providing shared experiences in the physical world is something Amazon can't (yet) do.

(Adding a coffee shop might be enough -- based on the number popping up and thriving in Boston recently it seems that we have a nigh-infinite demand for them. 1369 could use some competition, right?)

Invite Google to take a stake in your project. It could be the first showcase featuring Google Glass. Every customer who wants them, is loaned a pair of Google Glasses during their visit. Just imagine the kinds of specialty apps you could offer! Imagine the kind of positive publicity this could generate for both companies! Invest in a Google Glass developer's kit & whip up a prototype to show Google when you pitch this to them. I hope you live on, as the first AR bookstore!

Hey - I work for a company that brings authors to speak to readers based on sales. It's like the groupon model. If x number of people agree to buy the book, the author will come speak. This might help get people into the store. Incidentally, we're having an event in New York next month featuring a book about hacking! Anyway, we're called Togather and you can find us on the internet. You can email me tom (at) togather (dot) com if you have any questions. GOOD LUCK!

You could get an hp5500 (maybe there are other ones out there, this was the best a couple years back), and provide color service with simple binding options. With some clever color management, a photobook that I pressed on this got several best photo book of the year awards at photo-eye. The downshot is that there are too many online services that do this sort of stuff these days so you would have to become a creative hub / print shop for people to congregate.

See: the Last Bookstore in downtown LA.

It opened in 2009 and has expanded several times. It now sells 100,000 used books at $1 each in 16,000 square feet. It is already the largest independent bookseller in southern california.

There are so many books that they are organized by color in some sections. The variety within a shelf is just bizarre. Like the opposite of Google search results.

It feels like a tourist destination or an art installation. It's a remarkable experience.

I highly recommend turning it into a co-work space. I'd be interested in working out of that space if you do. Look at 1369 cafe a few doors down you'd notice that people just don't go there just for coffee. People are always on their laptop trying to get some work done. I'd be willing to partner with you if you want to go that direction. Drop me a line.

Hi. I'm interested in meeting you and would like to help you assess the viability of these ideas to create a plan moving forward. I'm a serial entrepreneur/artist/community organizer and I would like to help you transition lorem ipsum. I may be able to take it over, depending on what we learn together. My email is cwallardo at g mail dotcom.

Porter Square Books has a good model. The owner sublets a part of the store to a coffee shop business, so they have guaranteed income and a steady supply of casual browsers.

Harvard Square Books can't be making money with rhat custom printer. I've never seen that thing in operation. It must be the delivery model he has in place that you might want to consider.

I am interested. I live within walking distance of the store and am an avid tech extraordinaire/hacker who would hate to see it go down. Why not open it up for hackathons and tech meetups in the area? I know there are plenty of tech groups that are constantly looking for space to host their meetups and hackathons.

We'd be into doing this. We've been trying to do this as much as possible, but have yet to find a way to actually make money from it.

I will bring this up at a few meetups I will be attending through this week. I'm sure this will peak the interest of more than a few people at venture cafe as the bookstore would be a great way to connect talented developers to companies/investors; lately, the lack of finding talent in the Boston area has been a recurring conversation at tech+startup focused meetups

I'd like to help with this project and need, and I have experience as a former bookstore owner and small business consultant. Please contact me at samuraiforhire@gmail.com.

Tim Huggins http://timhugginsresume.wordpress.com/

Offer access to one of these as a service? http://hackaday.com/2012/11/16/google-books-team-open-source...

I guess a good idea might be to ask at a local succsefull bookstore (NYC in your case): Just walk in and tell you have a bookstore in Boston and ask how it's gooing and what worked best for them?

Other idea is to ask at a book(store) forum.

Good luck!

I'm part of the p.irateship hackerspace, and we're just down the street from Lorem Ipsum on Somerville Ave. I would like to talk about a few different possibilities with you. My email is seth at sethish.com

Where are all the Mckinsey Consultants that MIT produced? None of you can help a fellow beaver out? sheesh ...

I and a friend would consider buying the bookstore from you. Can we chat? adeas.cardozo@gmail.com

I think that Trident Booksellers gives a very good idea how you can run and think a bookstore above a bookstore. Try that in a different way - some ideas here are a good start.

I'd consider becoming a publisher, branding the store as an intellectual space of a particular sort (you decide). Have events, become a hub. Publishing is wide open, jump in.

Lorem Ipsum is fantastic, it would be so sad to lose you.

* Anything I can do to help the store? Other than buy things, which I've bought quite a bit form lorem Ipsum.

Thanks for the thoughts. Spread the word that we're looking for help? If you know of anyone that might be interested, please have them contact me: mattatloremipsumbooks.com

Hmmm, I don't have any immediate ideas, but will spread the word to others in the community who may be interested.


I'm in NYC now too, but I'd like to email you when I get home. Can I find your address somewhere?

I emailed you.

Hey... Big fan of LI and a fellow bookseller from the brattle bookshop here. I'd really love to alk with you and try and help Lorem Ipsum stay above ground. A friend sent me the link to this board, and so since ill prob forget about it after I post this please fell free to shoot me an email. I'd love to talk with you, I think its difficult to wage guesses as to how to improve the business without knowing more details about LIs buying policy, storage and more... But coming from a shop that is still highly successful thanks to a very specific and tailor made business plan, I've learned a lot about what makes a second hand bookshop work. Email is animalfoursquare@gmail.com sorry if its poor etiquette to post that.


Ellen! Thanks, will contact now.

Yes, I do! @elisemoussa on Twitter, an EdTech entrepreneur based in Cambridge :)

Have you tried to advertise your inventory on Google AdWords?

I suggest you donate all the books and start another business. Keeping a brick and mortar bookstore is an uphill battle and it is better to cut the loss sooner rather than later.

Hi Matt, this is Pablo from Argentina (the one that inherited your espresso machine).

Glad to see you are pursuing new ventures, sad to see the bookstore did not reach a sustainable point.

I think there is project that you may know, or not. Not sure if what they are doing is actually applicable to your bookstore, but nevertheless it has many ideas that may be interesting to you or the brave soul that continues with Lorem Ipsum. It is called "Orsai" (a word derived from soccer term off-side)

Back in late 2010, a writer and famous argentinean blogger living in Spain, Hernan Casciari, got some money from his "blog-novel-developed-into-book-and-then-into-a-play" and decided to make his dream come true and do something incredible: To publish a 100% ad-free literary magazine, on real paper, with the best printing quality, only featuring writers and artists he and his lifelong friend "Chiri" admired. It would cost like 15 sunday papers, and they would make the whole magazine available as DRM-free PDF download some weeks after its paper release.

Crazy, indeed. At the very same moment, the book industry was claiming Internet was destroying the paper book and making culture die by piracy: "people do not pay for cultural goods", they said.

But, against all odds Hernan did it, and published all 4 issues as promised. Readers bought the magazine in 10-packs and then re-distributed them to friends. They barely made even that year.

So in 2012, they tweaked the concept with a subscription model, and got 5500+ subscribers who paid in advance about USD 90 for a 6-issue yearlong subscription. With that model, they printed 6 beautifully made magazines, with some interviews that were unique and outstanding quality in all contents. The authors were very well paid, and the subscription model allowed for stories to span the whole year. A complete success.

NO ONE IN THE MIDDLE, is their motto.

I have been, in fact, a "Orsai distributor" this year. So people came to my place, and without knowing me they gave me about USD 90 to have their magazines every 2 months... The distribution became a great way to meet people, as in last issues we simply gathered on a small cultural center and had informal and interesting meetings with drinks and food.

This whole concept derived into a editorial company being created, one where the authors get 50% of the street price of EACH BOOK SOLD, together with a list of buyer´s email addresses to entice authors into one to one contact with their readers.

And finally, the related point: It derived into a bar in San Telmo: "Bar Orsai".

San Telmo, a trendish Buenos Aires area, is the right place to enact what they call "un bar para borrachos que leen" (spanish for "A bar for book-reading boozers").

So the place looks like a pub, with tables and a -hum-, a bar. For reasons that are more related to who were early into the project, it is known for its pizzas, so technically it is a pizzeria. But I am sure that if Hernan Casciari had a NASCAR racing friends, the place may have been a car repair shop.

The place is not a bookstore, it is not a cultural center or art gallery. It is not a theater either. But it is all of these at the same time. One night, an author comes to read his new book, the following night a renowned artist draws in one table for everybody there to see. There are magazines and books for sell. So you can order a fugazzeta, a beer, and a book.

It is not a new concept, but what it is new is how it came to be. The other way around: blog -> community -> books -> play based on the book -> literary magazine -> stronger community -> editorial -> bar to get community together.

It was born on the web in 2001. It is now a brick and mortar place. You had a brick a mortar store which was "web enabled". Looks like a closed circle to me. Perhaps the answer to have Lorem Ipsum stay opened is to leverage this "people with love for reading will love a place to meet and have fun".

If your spanish is still as good as when you were around, take a peek: http://www.editorialorsai.com. Watch the video, which resumes the whole story.

Un abrazo! ///Pablo

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