October 26, 2011
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Why Can’t We Have A Better Business Press?

At Electric Literature, Kristopher Jansma implores us to “Damn The Man, Save St.Mark’s," a New York bookstore once haunted by beats. He even-handedly deplores petitioners and protesters:

As The Awl points out, petitions are nice, but they do not pay the rent. If the 43,825 people who have currently signed the petition had also bought a nice new hardcover novel for $25.99, the St. Mark’s Bookshop would have no trouble paying its rent for the next 4 years.

The Awl’s Choire Sicha, unfortunately, is mistaken, and he’s taken Jansma for a ride. In the U.S., booksellers operate on a 40% markup, so the gross margin from these purchases would be $455,000. Merchant fees on credit cards will cost about $9000, and minimum-wage cashiers to simply handle the checkout are going to cost at least $9000.. The average hardcover weighs about 18oz, and shipping 49,000 pounds of books might cost you at least $30,000. Now we have $407,000. I’ll ignore taxes, heat, electricity, security, fixtures, stocking shelves, providing a selection of books, returning unsold books, or the fact that New York can be expensive.

The store’s current lease runs $20,000/month, which is $240,000/year. The windfall would not quite cover two year’s rent, and surely nowhere close to four.

None of this is arcane. The core mistake — forgetting that booksellers pay for the books they sell — is a simple fact of life. The Awl is small, but it’s got two reporters and a publisher. Electric Literature is a publisher, and probably knows that publishers get paid. Why doesn’t anyone catch these?