Saturday, July 12, 2008

Thoughts on the future of independent bookstores following the closing of Cody's Books

About 3 weeks ago, Cody's books, the Berkeley bookstore was closed. Cody's was not only an independent bookstore, but also became over its 52 years of operation a Berkeley institution and as author Cory Doctrow wrote on Boing Boing " a beacon to readers and writers throughout the nation and across the world. "

I got to know Cody's Books only lately when they joined our bookstores program, and I quickly fell in love with this unique bookstore. I was very sad of course when I got the news from the store, and I couldn't stop wondering - if Cody's goes down, what does it indicate on the future of independent bookstores? and what can we done to prevent the next independent bookstore to shut its doors or even maybe to bring Cody's back to life?

Well, the 'Why' question is very obvious. Cody's was closed because it didn't generate enough income to stay in business. The owner, Hiroshi Kagawa of the Japanese firm IBC Publishing, said in a statement, according to the SFGate: "unfortunately, my current business is not strong enough or rich enough to support Cody's."

Although Cody's cut in expenses (smaller inventory, downsized staff), sales ad the general manager Mindy Galoob explains in the SFGate article "were not anywhere near what was needed." You don't have to be an economist to understand that when sales cannot cover costs, not to speak on generating profit, going out of business is unavoidable.

So what can be done? is that it? will market conditions win over independent bookstores and close them one by one? I think that the answer can be 'NO', but that's up to the local communities of book lovers. Yes, I think that it's time for local communities to raise up and support their local independent bookstores.

And I think it should be more that just a call for book lovers to come and buy books on local independent bookstores. There should be more than that. There should be a commitment. How come for example we have Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to support local farmers and we don't have Community Supported Bookstores (CSB) to support local booksellers?

Just think if similar to the support in local farmers, local readers will commit to buy 12 books (one every month) from their local bookstore and will pay in advance for that, or even every month, but the commitment will be there, and so the stable cash flow that the bookstore know it can count on. Bookstores can even give incentive to pay in advance by giving one extra book for free. In any case, it can be easily become a win-win deal where book readers enjoy new books in good prices and bookstores will have more sales.

This kind of program can also be offered online for busy book readers who buy only in Amazon because they don't have time to visit the store, and to fans all over the world as well.
But independent bookstores also need to make an effort here. If they want communities to act like communities, they should do whatever they can to give them a feeling of community.

And it means to look for more creative ideas how to make the bookstore a place where book lovers can meet, both offline and online, exchange ideas and recommendations, interact, talk with authors, etc. It's especially true when it comes to a good online platform that can make all the difference, like the one we presented here two weeks ago of

Back to Cody's. I think that even if we can't bring back Cody's to life (but I still hope it can happen), it's time to make sure we learn our lesson here and do our best independent bookstores will stay alive and continue to be a significant part of their communities' cultural life. Now it's definitely the time for action, before it gets too late for other independent bookstores as well.