How do you save a struggling bookstore? Ask HackerNews

Lorem Ipsum Books, an independent used bookstore in Cambridge, Mass., faces declining sales and its founder, MIT Media Lab graduate Matt Mankins, now lives in New York. Over the weekend, Mankins went to HackerNews — a website about startups and computer hacking run by startup incubator Y Combinator — to ask, “Know of a hacker in Cambridge or Boston who wants a bookstore?” The post has received 86 responses so far — not just from people who want to buy Lorem Ipsum but also from those who have ideas on how to save a struggling indie bookstore.

Mankins tells the Boston Globe, “Ideally I’d find an innovator who enjoys reading, understands the community benefits that bookstores provide, and isn’t afraid to do things differently to nudge the store and the industry in different directions.”

A few HackerNews users expressed interest in possibly buying the store; plenty of others offered ideas to save it. Here are a few of the suggestions:

  • Lease the Espresso Book Machine, which prints out-of-print and self-published titles on demand. (Several independent bookstores, like the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge and McNally Robinson in New York, lease them.) “The machine is so expensive. The lease on it is more than our rent,” Mankins responded, but notes a future owner might be able to rig a cheaper POD machine using laser printers and binding tools.
  • Open a members-only bookstore/coffee shop: “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.”
  • Offer 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,” one user wrote. Another: “Become a hacker/student-centric coffee shop that enables freelancers, et al, to work in a less frenetic environment than Starbucks.”
  • Buy a MakerBot 3D printer and charge people to use it.
  • Just get referral fees from Amazon. “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.”

Photo courtesy of Flickr / ButterflySha