Business Ideas

Private Libraries

This is an idea that I *KNOW* other people have implemented, but I still think there’s room to expand on it. I was in Taiwan for about 7 months teaching English years back and they had private “manga” libraries (manga is Japanese comic books like Astroboy). It was a little shop, packed with stacks of comic books and teenage boys (and young men) perched on every conceivable surface reading. They would pay a monthly membership fee which would let them come and read the books in the shop (which would be quite a bit cheaper than buying all the comics themselves).

In “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” Robert Koyosaki relates starting something similar with comic books that had (incorrectly) been reported to the publisher as destroyed.

Any fringe area could be a source of clients for such a venture. Say I started a “real estate investors” private library. I could buy all the real estate books that are available (and track down rare fringe books such as John Reed’s or books of historical interest such as William Nickerson’s “How I Turned $1,000 into Five Million in Real Estate in My Spare Time“). Rent a small location on a side street somewhere in town, then provide memberships to people for $30 / month. They can come in and read all they want, talk to other investing enthusiasts, perhaps attend seminars (either given by other members or local professionals who want to do business with the members, sell snacks to them, etc.

Basically, it would be a special interest library and social club in one. Similar clubs could be set up for anything that has a serious enough local interests (think historical aviation enthusiasts, wool spinners, home brewers, etc). I don’t think such a venture would be wildly lucrative, but if you had an interest in the area, it would probably be enjoyable to set something like this up.

It would be good for the members, as they wouldn’t have to buy their own copies of works they’re interested in reading, plus it would give them a venue for meeting like minded individuals. With $30 / member / month it should reasonably easy to keep the rent paid, have a minimum wage employee serving snacks and keeping an eye on the place and maintaining the book collection (replace damaged books and get new ones that come out). If you wanted to go cheaper you could run the club as a non-profit and encourage members to donate their time and books to keep it running.

For this post, or any other of the wacky business ideas I post, obviously I’m releasing any ownership claims I may have over these ideas. If you like something I post and feel like you can make money from it, please feel free to do so! Let me know when you’re opening and we’ll do a post on it to give you some free advertising.

17 replies on “Private Libraries”

I actually really like this idea. Not for the money making possibilities, but for the simple reason that it brings together like minded individuals.

The only issue is that books take a lot longer than comics to read. How long are people willing to stay in one store?

The library in Toronto Botanical Garden is like this. My folks love gardening, so I took them to see it – and the snotty librarian practically ran us out of the place unless we signed up!

I think you need a rich eccentric to donate the collection of books to you first.

MDJ: I oscillate on the idea of letting people check books out. The plus, as you say, is that books take a lot long to read the comics. The con, is people then don’t linger (you don’t build the community of like minded people) and one person can monopolize a book for an extended period of time.

Maybe have some of the popular books that people can check out, then the “rare” collection that has to stay?

Guinness: How much was the sign up? The initial collection would be a bit of a pain to acquire (maybe you already have the core of a collection if you’re personally interested in the topic?).

So Mr. Cheap when are you lunching the online version of this with personal finance books? God knows we already swap enough books between us bloggers with review copies we might as well go for broke and expand it to our personal libraries. I say let’s start with a one month borrow period and a minimum of five books in your own library to join. What do you think we should charge for fees?


Completely off-topic: How was teaching in Taiwan? I’ve though pretty hard about quitting my job and teaching english overseas in the past. Would you recommend getting a TEFL certification or is it not worth the cost?

Ok, then how about a credit system. Everytime you pay to mail something out you get a credit. Each credit you can use to have someone send you something. That should also balance the system to keep people from over borrowing from others.

We will have to issue a starter amount of credit to get the system going, but it could work.


You know, this could work too for existing businesses as a real world method of social networking. Say you have a gardening store. You could sell books, or you could offer customers a membership in your private library. They can buy a book at whatever price you normally sell it at, or they can pay $30/month and borrow the books they want. You could occasionally have sales to sell the used books that don’t get borrowed often and replace them with new books.

Naturally, it wouldn’t have to be a gardening store, but this could be workable for many types of retail businesses. Plus, you would have a reason for members to return to your store regularly, especially if you host discussion groups or have guest speakers.

Kyle: It was good. It pays well (compared to “McJobs” here in Canada), great way to see another culture from the inside (living there instead of just visiting). I’d recommend it!

Tim: That’s be another way to go too…

dcr: That could work.

Mr Cheap – this is a pretty cool idea. I remember reading about the original idea you mentioned in Rich Dad Poor Dad too.

You could also turn it into a sort of networking club for investors and charge an additional fee for that.

Wait, why go to a library when you always have an online version for free at the comfort of your own home? It is for the same reason hard bound encyclopedia’s are almost non-existent now adays due to the emergency of its online version?

Fix My Personal Finance

Sam: but there aren’t extensive, free on-line versions of every book for every fringe interest. Some stuff you can only get in paper form.

I have to say that $30/month is a bit steep. Perhaps for $10/month. I belonged to a quilting guild which charged $20/year and we had our own library for borrowing from, plus all the monthly meetings and some monthly stitching groups that met in folks’ homes. The library was not the big expense item either – the newsletter was. With up to 200 members, and with advertising, too, it was a bit costly each month to mail. Now that the internet has rescued the day, that must have gone down (I no longer edit the newsletter). These are definitely special interest books and give us a chance to see if we would want it enough to buy our own copy or not. I agree that it is hard to find some of the PF books in the local libraries, and I hate to fork out the dough then find I got one that really doesn’t appeal to me. A private club – starting with those who already share their review copies and may have a bit of trust – developed into an ‘invitation only’ type club, with dues and ways to track down any offending members (i.e., must give up anonymity and location to other members) might be the way to go. I’ve thought of opening my own in some overseas location for ex-pats – sharing my library first-hand rather than selling it on craigslist when I was through with a book.

Di: You’re right that not every fringe interest would justify a $30 / month membership. Early Retirement Extreme asked if his readers would buy a newsletter from him, and they freaked out ( But then, his readers are big on frugality! A debt-reduction private library or a frugality private library would be a pretty tough sell :-).

Many real estate investors spend insane money on information (like thousands of dollars on weekend “boot camps” – basically just a seminar). $30 / month compared to that would look very cheap.

It’s a good idea to throw our ideas out and see what the world thinks about them, tho. Kinda like “Ask a friend” or “Ask the Audience” and the audience in this case (target market audience) is likely to be more honest than the friend, who has an emotional investment in you.

An online version of this would be interesting – I don’t know if being able to share the collection of books over a wide area would make up the cost of moving them around though (paperbacks would definitely have an advantage over textbooks!).

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