Business Overview


Books are still widely read, and many people don’t mind reading used books that are in good condition. In fact, lots of readers prefer used books because they’re less expensive than new ones.

Used book stores sell used books to customers. Some stores have storefronts, while others sell only online. Also, some stores carry all genres and types of books, while others specialize in a niche.

Who is this business right for?

The ideal used book store business owner is someone who loves to read and is passionate about books. Most owners have personal collections of books before they open a store. A survey by Book Sale Finder also found that over 80 percent of owners like the thrill of finding “treasures.” This made finding treasures the number one factor for becoming a used book store business owner.

This is an easy business to begin as a part-time business. In fact, Book Sale Finder’s data showed that 53 percent of business owners sold books part-time. Many began their businesses while semi-retired, after losing their jobs, when homebound or while working other full-time jobs.

What happens during a typical day at a used book store?

A book store business owner spends much of their time on the following four tasks:

  • Acquiring inventory

  • Evaluating and pricing books

  • Listing books

  • Fulfilling and shipping orders

When not working directly with books, business owners may pay bills, clean their facility (if they own a physical store), and market their store.

What is the target market?

A used book store business’ ideal customer is someone who reads a lot. Such a person will be regularly looking for more books. They’ll also appreciate how much they can save by purchasing used books instead of new ones.

How does a used book store make money?

A used book store makes money by selling used books. Most books are priced individually. At physical stores, though, some books that have little value may be priced at a standard low rate (e.g. $0.05) to get customers in the door.

What is the growth potential for a used book store?

Most used book store businesses remain small businesses, which is why over half of all owners run their stores part-time. Some businesses, become local or regional chains.

For example, Half Priced Books has almost 50 locations throughout Texas and Oklahoma. Walls of Books has locations throughout the United States (mostly in the Eastern U.S.). A couple examples of single-location used book stores are Dawn Treader Book Shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Autumn Leaves Used Books in Ithaca, New York.

Getting Started


What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful used book store?

Used book store business owners must be familiar with the going prices of books, reader trends, and how to run a book store. Those without industry experience can learn about these different aspects of owning a used book store several ways:

Many books have also been written on how to sell used books. A few titles include How to Sell Used Books on Amazon, The Home-Based Bookstore and Sell Used Books Online.

Business owners who are looking for an inexpensive way to learn about the industry may try working for a used book store. Working for another store will give business owners first-hand experience in the industry and provide some income.

What are the costs involved in opening a used book store?

The costs associated with opening a used book store business vary a lot depending on whether a store will be based online or have a physical storefront.

A business with a physical storefront must pay for a space. This includes rent for the space, as well as insurance premiums and utilities. Also, physical book stores usually need to carry more inventory because they have to fill their shelves with books. The total cost of opening a physical book store can range from $8,250 to $18,950.

Online used book stores cost much less to open. Their primary startup expense is inventory, which can be adjusted to a business owner’s budget. Some business owners invest several thousand dollars in inventory, while others begin with their own personal collections of books.

Online book selling platforms charge listing or selling fees. Most of the time, however, there is an option to have these fees subtracted from sales rather than paid up front. Taking them out of sales may cost more, but it keeps startup expenses low. Once business owners sell enough books to afford an upfront fee, they can switch their fee payment method.

Because online stores cost less to start up and many customers shop online, new business owners frequently opt to open an online store instead of a physical one.

What are the steps to start a used book store?

Once you're ready to start your used book store, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:

  1. Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
  2. Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your used book store is sued.
  3. Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
  4. Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your used book store keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
  5. Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
  6. Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
  7. Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
  8. Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
  9. Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Where can I find a business mentor?

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Recommended: Fizzle.co offers video courses and a supportive online community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Try one month membership for for free.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a used book store?

When starting a used book store business that has a physical store front, it’s important to select a high-traffic area. The local population should be at least 30,000 people, and the store’s location should have lots of people passing by.

When opening an online used book store business, providing excellent customer service to the first few customers who place orders is of the utmost importance. Customers decide who to buy books from based on reviews. A few negative reviews will tank a business. A few positive ones will get it off to a good start.

Growing Your Business


How to promote & market a used book store

Regardless of whether a used book store business has a storefront or is only online, it should be promoted online. Social media, review sites, and reviews on book-buying sites (e.g. Amazon) will increase a book store’s visibility.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

A used book store business can distinguish itself from others by specializing in a particular type of book. John K. King does this by selling used and rare books. Colophon Books focuses on horror, weird fiction, and science-fiction from the United Kingdom.

How and when to build a team

Used book store business owners who run online businesses frequently operate their stores themselves. Owners of businesses with physical stores may run their business themselves or have a staff. Hiring employees lets them be open longer hours.

Legal Considerations


State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to open a used book store. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

For information about local licenses and permits:

Certificate of Occupancy

Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO).  A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

  • If you plan to lease a location:
    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a used book store business.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • If you plan to purchase or build a location:
    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your used book store business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

Reduce Personal Liability

Structuring your business as a limited liability company (LLC) ensures your personal assets are protected in the event your business is sued.

What is an LLC?

Form an LLC in 5 easy steps

Earning Potential


How much can you charge customers?

The price of used books varies greatly. Many books are available on Amazon for a penny plus shipping. At the other extreme, rare books can go for thousands of dollars. A first edition of The Hobbit was available for 7,800 EUR ($8,910 USD) at the time of writing.

To earn a profit on the books they sell, business owners should offer about one-third of the going rate for books. In some cases, they may offer a little less or more than this. Paying one-third provides a decent profit, though.

What are the ongoing expenses for a used book store?

The biggest ongoing expense for a used book store is purchasing more inventory. Online stores must also pay listing fees and shipping costs. Over 80 percent of owners who have online stores keep their inventory in their home. This eliminates the need to lease storage space. Physical stores have to pay rent and utilities.

How much profit can a used book store make?

Book Sale Finder’s survey breaks income out by what business owners did before they opened a used book store business. Of those who quit their jobs to start a business:

  • 13 percent earn less than $5,000 annually

  • 15 percent earn between $5,000 and $20,000 annually

  • 29 percent earn between $20,000 and $50,000 annually

  • 19 percent earn between $50,000 and $100,000 annually

  • 13 percent make over $100,000 annually

(These figures include both part- and full-time business owners.)

Business owners who were involuntarily unemployed, homebound, working another job, or retired before starting a used book store business tend to make a little less than the above figures.

How can you make your business more profitable?

Business owners who are familiar with the value of rare and out-of-print books can increase their income by offering appraisals of books. All used book store business owners can generate more revenue by selling book-related items in addition to books.

Next Steps

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