Jon Stich in Oakland reports:
In the past four years of my employment at Diesel, I have seen far too many other indies go under.
Black Oak Books in North Berkeley, a location near Chez Panisse, the Cheeseboard Collective, Cafe Gratitude, and other well-respected, well-mannered, and well-off establishments, went out of business in 2009 after years of struggling. Stacey’s Bookstore, located on Market Street in San Francisco near the Financial District, a store which had been at that location for 85 years, closed in 2009. A Clean Well Lighted Place For Books, located on Van Ness in San Francisco near the SF Opera House and City Hall, closed after 25 years in the summer of 2006. Cody’s Books, the iconic bookstore of Berkeley which had been around since 1956, its primary location a few blocks from what is considered to be one of the more prestigious and selective of the California universities, a bookstore which had fearlessly defended protesters of the Vietnam war and remained open despite extremist firebomb attacks in response to a display of Salman Rushdie‘s The Satanic Verses, closed its doors in 2006, with its other locations in San Francisco and West Berkeley to follow soon thereafter.
A meal at Chez Panisse is about $100 a plate. A ticket to the SF Opera is around the same. The estimated cost of living for an undergraduate on the UC Berkeley campus for the 2010-2011 school year is $31,044. Every single one of these shops was located in a community that is well-off, intelligent, and progressive, yet somehow they did not survive. So how is it these communities allowed their iconic independent bookstores to die? Have books become obsolete? Or have online retailers like Amazon and Walmart devalued books to the point that to pay the cover price is simply asking too much?
As depressing as this is, the fact remains that with the arrival of e-readers like the Kindle and the iPad, the bookselling world must change drastically in order to survive. E-books are available at independent stores like Diesel, and shopping online at an independent’s website still keeps money in the community. Amazon and Walmart could care less about community. But there is no question that the landscape of the book world four years from now will look drastically different than it does today. And at the current rate, one can only hope that indie bookstores will be a part of it.
For more insight, read this piece about what we have to hope are not Adobe Books‘ last days.