I ready today in the Passive Voice that bookstores in Venice are closing at an alarming rate. A half dozen of them have closed recently. But, with a population of only 60,000 it seems that the tourist-oriented city cannot and does not support the number that it currently has. The reason given by the booksellers association is the rising rents.
I don't know if it is the case in Venice or for that matter in Europe, but in North America, book profit margins are thin. Can you think of another product that has its price permanently imprinted on it? I can't and there's a reason for it. The retailer buys a product, any product, not just books, from a wholesaler. The desired profit is then factored in, taking into account retail expenses. For example, for clothing the typical mark-up is one hundred percent. The wholesale price of a dress is $75 and the price tag in the store gives $150 as the price (sometimes higher) This allows the retailer the ability to put the dress on sale at 25% off or $112.50 and still make a profit. Businesses have to make a profit to stay in business.
But books are only marked up 40%. The retailer pays 40% less than the price printed on the back of the book. In exchange for this, they are able to return the book, if unsold, to the publisher within a certain time frame, usually less a re-stocking fee. During a brief stint in a book store I was surprised to discover that, with paperbacks, only the cover is torn off and returned. The rest of the unsold book is recycled. I'm not aware that this ability to return for credit (for a non-defective product) applies to any other item but I stand to be corrected.
But back to Venice: I suspect that people who open and run small independent bookstores, such as the type found in Venice, do it for a love of books, not a love of money. But they still need to pay the bills and for that they need sales. I've been in Venice a couple of times and I must confess I did not visit a book store. Venice is a maze of narrow pedestrian streets and it is easy to worry about getting lost. As well, since a couple of hours may easily be spent in line ups with other tourists at the the Basilica San Marco, the Doge's Palace, and the Galleria dell'Accademia this impinges on time that could be spent browsing in bookstores.
As a final point, I could mention that with the trend towards charging for luggage and hefty surcharges for overweight bags, bringing home books may be a costly proposition.