In a time of increasing competition from mega-chains and online retailers, many local businesses are fighting for survival. Through the tumultuous story of two beloved Bay Area booksellers, Cody's and Kepler's, PAPERBACK DREAMS captures the David and Goliath struggle faced by countless independents around the country.
Top customer reviews
This film is a story of the rise and fall of two bookstores in the San Francisco Bay Area...one near Stanford and one near U.C. Berkeley. As someone who has lived in the area for more than 30 years, I actually have personal knowledge of both these independents. And certainly one of the wonderful things that they have done is to bring some of the most vibrant authors in America to the public at a minimal cost...to us. Often that has made me want to purchase something I would otherwise never have discovered.
As the movie shows...the independent bookstores came into being when the average man on the street and certainly the average college student - read, read, and read. It was the golden age of paperbacks. Owning books, even the great books, was within everyone's budget. Ideas were everything. Alas, the demise of the independent bookstore is not the result of just big box competitors. I believe it is caused by the terrible fact that less and less people read - seriously. Instead, they fawn over meaningless television and become fixed to their computer screens.
So the message of the film is: "Read - Discuss - Think." Please support your independent booksellers. In preserving these landmarks and buying locally, all of us can save these vital links of our democracy.
A few years ago, two landmark bookstores in the Bay Area closed. One was Cody's in Berkeley, the other was Kepler's in Menlo Park. Each was established in the 1950s as a counterculture bookstore and meeting place for students, philosophers, and other people with ideas. It was no coincidence that they sprang up near major universities: Cody's a few blocks from UC Berkeley and Kepler's a little over a mile from Stanford.
When Cody's closed, hundreds of people showed up to say goodbye to the store and to owner Andy Ross, and to take advantage of the clearance sale. When Kepler's closed without warning, the community rallied to find a way to finance its re-opening. Kepler's remains open three years later and no one is taking it for granted.
While Paperback Dreams examines the history of the two bookstores and independent bookstores in general, the most interesting and important questions the documentary asks is why are independent bookstores unable to flourish today. There are lots of interviews with Andy Ross, Clark Kepler, Pat Cody (an original owner of Cody's), Michael Powell of Powell's Books in Portland, and other booksellers and writers.
The easy answer is that big box bookstores and online booksellers have killed the independent bookstore. Certainly many of the people interviewed think so. I'm not so sure.
I think it started before that. Back in the 1970s, if you wanted to buy a book, you went to your local bookstore and bought it if they had it. All the bookstores were independent in those days, until a few Waldenbooks started dotting the malls. You paid the price the publisher had set for the book. It was simple, but it wasn't cheap and there was little choice, and no way to get an out-of-print book other than chancing upon it at a used bookstore.
Then Crown Books started selling books at a discount and became a successful chain. By the 1980s, they were pretty much everywhere. All the bookstores started discounting the bestsellers. Then the superstores and Amazon came along. Although a lot of people professed to be upset by Borders and Barnes & Nobles cutting into the independents' business, an awful lot of people seemed to be very happy to have a large selection of books for a change.
By this time, if independent booksellers hadn't found a way to adapt to the changing marketplace, they went out of business. Certainly that is a shame, but look around at the ones who have stayed in business. They've become specialists: children's books, travel books and maps, mysteries. Or they provide special services: frequent author readings and signings, discussion groups, used books in addition to new books.
Paperback Dreams is solidly in favor of independent bookstores and against the big box stores and online stores. In fact, you can't even buy it here. You have to buy it through the distributor they link to on their website or from an independent bookseller like Kepler's.
Special Features on the DVD include a Featurette (Wheat From the Chaff: Publishing Voices on Independents), Extended Author Readings (Ralph Nader, Douglas Coupland, Salman Rushdie, Gary Snyder, George Saunders), Extended Scenes (Cody's farewell, Cody's events), and a Deleted Scene (A Berkeley Street Poet Remembers Cody's). I enthusiastically recommend it --whether you agree or not, it will make you think. Even if you can't buy it here. (Update November 2009: Paperback Dreams finally available on Amazon!)
The film focuses on the second owners of two bookstores in the Bay area - one in San Francisco; the other in Berkeley. So those in the Bay Area will definitely want to get this - even if they have seen it on TV. There are comments from one of the largest Independents - Powell's Books in Seattle. And the publishers are represented too.
While the underlying message of the film is that big stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble will cause the demise of the locally owned store, we are learning in the daily newspapers that its on-line stores like Amazon and big-box stores like Wal-mart that are forcing Borders to close many stores and lay off staffs.
The film is definitely food for thought and the author readings in the supplemental material are a nice bonus.