Schooling Potential Booksellers on the Realities of the Book Business

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Twice a year since July 1999, Paz & Associates Bookstore Training & Consulting Group, in conjunction with the American Booksellers Association, has been conducting weeklong intensive workshops designed to teach potential booksellers the ins and outs of the bookstore business. The next program, "Opening a Bookstore: The Business Essentials," will take place in Portland, Oregon, on September 9 - 15, in conjunction with the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association convention and trade show, held September 13 - 15.

"There is an enormous number of people who have a dream of opening a bookstore," said Mark Kaufman of Paz & Associates. "Bookselling has a mystique."

Bookselling may have a mystique, but the process of opening a bookstore has a very real side, too -- hard work and lots of it. "Opening a Bookstore" seeks to show prospective bookstore owners both the potential joys and the potential frustrations of the business. "Most people [signing up for the workshop] are looking for a career change," said Donna Paz of Paz & Associates. "Is it the right fit?"

"We get them to ask questions about lifestyle," Kaufman explained. "How much [money] is enough? How do you want to be spending your time?"

Toward that end, during the weeklong workshop attendees will learn how the book industry works and how it differs from other retail industries; what's involved in opening a bookstore; what bookstore owners must do every day to be successful; and the management disciplines of financial success; among many other things.

The program is limited to approximately 20 attendees and is intensive, said Paz. Participants will learn through experience and hands-on training. For example, each workshop has a host store or stores where attendees are given assignments that enable them to find out what it's like to work in a bookstore. This fall, the host stores in Portland are Powell's Books and Annie Bloom's Books.

Without question, this hands-on approach has become increasingly important as, more and more, people with business and corporate backgrounds sign up for the workshops, said Kaufman. And while the differences between working for a corporation and running a bookstore can be enormous, both Kaufman and Paz pointed out that these corporate veterans bring to the table business savvy and a good understanding of competition. Traits that could serve them well in the competitive world of bookselling.

"They know they can't just make it on books," said Paz. "They want to stretch into different categories to complement the books. They're not trying to be a general store."

Attendees are also coming into the workshops knowing about, and understanding the importance of, Book Sense, Paz added. "These people are doing research before the school, fishing on the ABA Web site and on our own site," she explained. "They ask us a million questions, and that's great!"

Kaufman said that new bookstore owners seem to be opening stores in small towns with populations from 10,000 to 15,000. As a result, these new bookstore owners avoid competing with the big chains, which look to open stores in more populated areas.

Kaufman guessed that approximately 40 to 50 percent of participants in their "Opening a Bookstore" workshops eventually open a store. However, Paz noted that, after attending the workshop, "the majority delay their opening," because they have realized just how much it takes to run a bookstore. "We even consider the workshop a success if we talk someone out of it!" she added. "It's so different from sitting behind a desk."

For more information or to register for "Opening a Bookstore: The Business Essentials," visit or call (800) 260-8605.