All together now

Something wonderful happened this past weekend, and it wasn’t just that our quarterly clearance sale was our best day ever. 

For the first time since Hayley joined us as a co-owner, all three of us were in-store at the same time. This was, as Owen Meany would have said, NO COINCIDENCE.

We even have proof: our first ever team photo. Here we are all looking very proprietary:

Proprietors and windows.jpg

Hayden was in town because he lives in Auckland, duh.

I was over from New York for the release of Better Lives, my new migration book written with Peter Wilson which you can order here and either pick up instore or have shipped to you for a measly three bucks. It will even be autographed.

Hayley was up from Wellington to hang out, make tea, be her absolutely lovely self and help address the guavapocalypse.


We even recorded a couple of podcasts with the delightful Anna Livesey for the store's Ears Wide Open series. They will be coming soon.

One of the best parts of the weekend was sitting on the couch with Hayley playing Statler and Waldorf while Hayden charmed the customers. Fun times, and exactly the kind of day we all had in mind when we got started on this endeavour.

All our Christmases

December is the best month of the year for revenue at the Open Book. December 2017 was our best month ever and we made $11,000 (!), about 60 per cent more than October or November. Breakeven at the moment (with me donating two days a week to the store) is around $7,500.

The simple explanation for why December is so good is that there are more customers.

This is how December compares with the three previous months.

Month September October November December
Total customers 274 329 268 405
Total revenue 5,100 7,400 6,200 11,000
Revenue per day 172 239 208 380
Revenue per customer 19 22 23 22
  • You can see the big spike in total customers and revenue per day, and the leap in total revenue.
  • You can also see that revenue per customer is about the same as October and November.
  • I can tell you that customers in December buy the same number of books on average as other months (two). So it isn't explained by the choice of books. It is just that there are more people.

There are a different number of trading days in each month just to complicate things. December has one fewer day than September or November and two fewer than October. October also gets a boost because we have one of our quarterly clearance sales that month. But the trend is still very clear. Lots more customers for Christmas.

Over time

This was our second Christmas, and I also have data from the previous proprietors for two other Christmases. So we can do some interesting comparisons.

This chart shows average revenue per day on a rolling seven day basis for December. The blue line is 2017. The orange is 2016. The grey lines are two previous years. The rolling seven day average helps to make the trend clearer and also compensates for the fact that the weekends move around, e.g., December 7 was a Thursday in 2017 but a Wednesday in 2016.

You can see that 2017 started well ahead of other years and basically stayed that way, only giving up its lead very late in the month compared with one of the previous years.

The two weeks before Christmas get very busy. You can see how every line starts to tilt up about the 14th of the month. Happy times for secondhand booksellers!

Compared with 2016, 2017 had higher revenue every day, but a smaller spike in revenues as Christmas itself approached. Maybe customers this year started shopping for gifts earlier, or the efforts we have been making in store made it a more appealing place in general.

Breakeven revenue at the moment is about $250 a day. In December 2017 we averaged well above that every day.

This table shows the distribution of revenue per day for each year (the previous proprietors' years are labelled A and B). It reinforces the picture above.

Metric 2017 2016 A B
Days under 100 - 6 4 -
Days under 200 3 11 2 9
Days under 300 8 19 14 16
Days over 300 21 10 15 13
Days over 500 7 2 3 6

There are a lot fewer days of low revenue. In 2017 we had only three days of revenue below $200, compared with 11 in 2016.

There are a lot more days with high revenue. In 2017, 21 of the 29 December trading days were over $300, compared with only 10 last December. The best days were 22 and 23 December, each with revenue of nearly $700.

However you look at it, December 2017 was good times for revenue in our micro enterprise. The question is just how to generate foot traffic like December in every other month.

Bundling up

In September we made 274 sales. In November it was 268, practically the same. But revenue was over $1,000 more in November than September. The difference was in average spend per customer, which we call basket value.

Read More

A tale of two sales

We hold a sale every three months. We take all the boxes of clearance books from the shed and put them on display. They are five bucks each or five for ten dollars. A steal. Between times we funnel good books that won't fit on the shelves into the clearance boxes and move on the less good ones, in preparation for the next sale.

We had a sale on a super stormy Saturday July 22. And we had another one this past weekend, a rain-early-but-then-clearing Saturday October 28.

The table below compares numbers from the two days.

July 22 October 28
Sales transactions 110 55
Books sold 357 246
Revenue $2,155 $1,135
Facebook reach 13,789 3,696
People who said they were interested 352 181
People who said they were coming 67 23

You can see that in July we had twice as many sales and made just under twice as much revenue as the October sale.

One reason why might be that the Facebook advertising in July had much greater reach than October. We spent $15 in July and twice that last month. The advertising was essentially identical. So something happened in July that caused people to share it much more than in October.

The graph below shows some metrics derived from the sales numbers above.

You can see that:

  • We made less revenue per book but we moved more books per sale (four and a half books per person is a lot: the average in ordinary time is around two). This indicates that we sold relatively more clearance books and fewer full-priced books in the October sale.

  • We also had a higher revenue per sale overall in October. Combined with the large number of books per sale, this says to me that the sale worked, i.e., the very cheap books encouraged people to spend more than they otherwise would. It might also mean that our clearance books were better quality this time around. We certainly had more books (52 boxes compared with about 40) and they were better arranged inside the store.

  • And perhaps we had fewer people show up who are more inclined to buy full priced books. One influence could have been greater competition as a result of it also being National Bookshop Day, which meant that there were lots of other book-related things for book-keen people to do on that day.

Business is a constant process of theorising about ultimate causes while blundering around trying to plug the obvious holes. In summary, we know that:

  • Something good happened with the Facebook ad in July that did not happen in October.

  • The better weather in October did not obviously help (maybe terribly stormy weather in July made bookshopping more appealing).

  • We had more people inclined to buy clearance books in October than July.

  • And even at half the size of the July version, overall the sale was a success, bringing in about five days' revenue in one day.

The next sale will be on Saturday January 27 next year. Adding another data point to the series will doubtless help in generating more hypotheses, if nothing else.

Overcoming obscurity

We are getting to the end of the beginning of this bookstore journey. The big physical changes are mostly made. The books are less numerous, better quality, and more orderly. We have run a few events and hired out the space a few times. The space is ready for people. The question is how to get them along.

Read More

Straight from the horse's mouth

We post a book of the day on Facebook and on our website every day. We recently switched from posting to Facebook via the website to posting directly to Facebook. This means a little extra work: we have to create each post twice. But it turns out that content that we post directly gets nearly three times as much visibility on Facebook.

Read More

Out of this world

Our brand promise is Out of this World. One of the ways we deliver on that promise is through our instore environment. Right on Ponsonby Road, but a million miles away in hustle and bustle. Here is the original wonky walkthrough video I sent to Julie a year ago. And another version I shot just now (I walked a bit quicker the second time soz).

Read More


We have a clear goal for the bookstore: to increase revenues to the point where we can cover our costs with staffing for seven days a week. Roughly that means doubling revenue from when we took it over. One thing that makes it hard to know how we are going is the volatility in the numbers. They jump around rather a lot.

Read More

Far to go

When we started we knew that the store lost a small amount of money most months, and did best in the summer. We knew that sales had been pretty consistent in the past couple of years, but were about three times higher ten years ago. We also knew how much the store spent and on what. And we had a good idea of what books were in stock. So how are we tracking, four months in?

Read More