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On Tuesday, the Sacramento Area Peace Action showed the PBS documentary “Paperback Dreams” for its fourth Tuesday film this month. Only seven people showed up to this month’s showing, which is abnormal, according to David Kimble, who regularly attends. (good info)
SAPA’s fourth Tuesday films are at 909 12th St. in the first-floor conference room. The showings are free and open to the public. SAPA has been showing films on the fourth Tuesday of the month for free the past seven years. The next film will be “Not Just a Game: Power, Politics & American Sports” on Jan. 25.
“Paperback Dreams” tells the story of two Bay Area independent bookstores, Cody’s Books and Kepler’s Books. The film documents the struggles of the stores to survive in the face of changing reading habits, chain bookstores and the Internet.
Fred and Pat Cody opened Cody’s Books on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley in 1956. They moved the store to Telegraph Avenue in 1960 and again, down the street to it’s iconic location, in 1965. The store was sold to Andy Ross in 1977, who eventually had to close it in 2008.
Roy Kepler opened Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park in 1955. His son, Clark Kepler, took over the store in 1980. Clark moved the store to its current location in 1989.
The paperback opened the world of literature to a wider audience by lowering the price of books. Both stores opened in the midst of the paperback revolution, taking advantage of the generation’s thirst for reading and ideas.
The ’60s and ’70s brought the social movements surrounding the Vietnam War. Cody’s was at the center these events in Berkeley at its Telegraph Avenue location. At one point, the bookstore acted as a refuge for injured protesters.
According to the film, during the last three decades, growing chains like Barnes and Noble have increasingly taken sales from independent bookstores. Corporate cooperation between publishers and stores has changed the way books reach readers.
The film comments on this corporate cooperation and how it can marginalize non-mainstream authors.
Firoozeh Dumas’ “Funny in Farsi,” her autobiography about growing up in Iran, ended up next to the bathroom in a large chain, in the sociology section. In Cody’s, it was out front, and the author was even recognized when she walked in.
But the Internet has been the greatest threat to the independent bookstore, the film said. Online book retailers like Amazon.com took advantage of the Internet to cut costs and reach more customers than independent bookstores could.
Cody’s and Kepler’s have tried to weather the storm.
Kepler’s closed for a while before community support helped it to reopen. The initial boost in sales didn’t last long. Management decided to recast the store and business model in the style of large chain stores, doing almost 25 percent of its sales in gifts and book-related merchandise.
Cody’s opened a new store in downtown San Francisco in an attempt to stay above water. The iconic Telegraph Avenue store closed in 2006, followed by the San Francisco store in 2007 and, finally, the original location on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley closed in 2008.
In the bookselling business, a 3 percent profit margin is considered good, and losing 10 - 15 percent of sales is a death sentence. Combined, these make it a very tough business to stay afloat in, according to the film.
With cheaper and wider selection from online retailers and the decline of book buying in the past 10 years due in part to the Internet, it’s increasingly difficult for independent bookstores to stay in business.
Photo one is of Pat Cody and Andy Ross; Photo two is of Clark Kepler; Photo three is of Andy Ross.