via Rework Podcast Ep55 and Wailin Wong/Signal v. Noise

Full transcript available.

In the spring of 2019, Danny Caine, the owner of the Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas, overheard a customer saying she could buy a new hardcover online for $15. Danny took to Twitter to explain the economics of independent bookstores and the thread went viral, putting the 32-year-old small business in the national spotlight. Danny comes on the Rework podcast to talk about why his activism and outspoken stance against Amazon haven’t just felt right, but been good for business too.

On the economics of running an independent bookstore.

Wailin: [00:07:15] Here’s one of Danny’s tweets. “When we order direct from publishers, we get a wholesale discount of 46% off the cover price. The book in question had a cover price of $26.99 meaning our cost for that book from the publishers would be $14.57. If we sold it for $15 we’d make… 43 cents.
Danny: [00:07:38] In one of the tweets in there. I said, if we sold every book at that margin, we would be able to stay open for six days. We’d sell 10,000 books and it would keep us open for six days. And just that thought with the numbers behind it maybe resonated with people.

On the "game" for independent bookstores around stocking blockbuster titles.

[00:19:07] Another thing that happens is at some point these books just run out. It was really bad with Michelle Obama last year because they couldn’t print them fast enough to keep everybody in stock. And then, because all of the printing capacity is going towards Michelle Obama, she was kind of hogging up all the printing factories. Other books were out of stock too. After maybe November 25th, no one could reorder Salt Fat Acid Heat last year. That’s a color cookbook and it takes forever to print. It’s an expensive book and everybody was trying so hard to crank out Michelle Obamas.

Bookstores are political.

Wailin: [00:23:04] In my mind, bookstores are inherently political.
Danny: [00:23:07] Oh yeah. I totally agree. Just the idea of facts is a political idea now. I think it’s been decades since the idea of truth has been this political. So that’s part of I think why we eventually decided to become a political bookstore, more political in how we told our story, is that we’re already doing it. There’s nothing about bookselling that’s not political, so you might as well lean into it.