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Cody’s Books, in Berkeley, California, had its roots during the mid-1950s in the left-wing sympathies of its founders, the husband–wife team of Fred and Patricia Cody. Serving the University of California nearby, the much admired bookstore became a hangout and haven for intellectually curious students and faculty. In the social protest movements of the 1960s, the store functioned as a refuge from street violence as students and police clashed outside. When long-term employee Andy Ross bought the shop upon the Codys’ retirement, it was a thriving business but soon ran into challenges from encroaching chain stores and the emergence of online shopping. Ross responded variously: sometimes with ambitious, effective bookselling tactics, sometimes with ineffective resentment towards consumers who had abandoned the store. Attempts to survive through risky refinancing and the infusion of foreign investment money to support expansion into San Francisco all backfired. The last Cody’s branch closed ignominiously in 2008.

In: Logos
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Borders, the US bookstore chain, was for a time a credible competitor to the even bigger chain, Barnes & Noble. However, as the digital revolution in publishing moved forwards in the early 2000s, Borders made numerous unfortunate managerial decisions, unwittingly putting itself on a course towards collapse. Overexpansion and unsustainable debt were in the background, and ill-considered in-store retailing techniques in the foreground. This article reports on a visit to a representative Borders ‘concept store’, in Massachusetts, where nearly every department in the store had been adapted from traditional bookselling methods to exploit the digital side of bookselling and publishing. And yet nothing worked well enough to capture the attention of shoppers. The store—and by extrapolation the nationwide chain—essentially self-destructed, leaving a gaping hole in American bookselling.

In: Logos
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Kepler’s Books, founded in 1955 in Menlo Park, CA, USA, was for many years an independent bookstore serving the Stanford University community. Its founder, Roy Kepler, a leftist with pacifist views, refused military service in World War II and later lobbied the US Congress about taxation and its military budget. The general trade bookstore was a nexus of left-wing and counter-culture voices, though it sold books from all parts of the political spectrum. Ownership of the bookstore passed, in the late 1980s, to Roy Kepler’s son Clark, and successful years followed, including selection as Bookseller of the Year by Publisher’s Weekly in 1990. But, with the rise of the bookstore chains (especially Borders and Barnes & Noble) and even more so with the advent of internet shopping and the emergence of Amazon.com as America’s biggest bookseller, Kepler’s, like many other independents, suffered unsustainable losses. A decision to close the store in 2005 provoked an uprising from the community. People complained about losing a beloved store where, ironically, most of them had stopped shopping some years before. Reopening the store required refinancing the business, this time under community ownership; the new business model brought on board Silicon Valley high-tech entrepreneurs who had never run a bookstore but who had marketing and management experience. A non-profit corporation, Peninsula Arts and Letters, was formed to run a literary events series, while the reconfigured bookstore remained a for-profit corporation, Clark Kepler eventually receding, via retirement, into the background. The success of the new business configuration raises questions about whether this business model is replicable for other similarly vulnerable independent bookstores in America, or whether the coincidental presence of high-income and highly educated people among Kepler’s neighbourhood clientele puts it in a special position hard to imitate elsewhere.

In: Logos
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Abstract

In 1989, a literary landmark in New York City closed. Scribner’s Bookstore, 597 Fifth Avenue, stood at the epicentre of Manhattan’s retail district. The Scribner’s publishing company was then 153 years old. In the 1920s, driven by genius editor Max Perkins, Scribner’s published Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Wolfe. Scribner’s Magazine was The New Yorker of its day. The bookshop and publisher occupied a 10-storey Beaux-Arts building, designed by Ernest Flagg, which eventually won protection from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Medallions honoured printers Benjamin Franklin, William Caxton, Johann Gutenberg, and Aldus Manutius. The ‘Byzantine cathedral of books’ offered deeply informed personal service. But the paperback revolution gained momentum, bookshop chains like Barnes & Noble and Brentano’s adopted extreme discounting, and the no-discounting Scribner’s business model became unsustainable. Real estate developers swooped in. The bookshop’s ignominious end came when Italian clothier Benetton took over its space.

In: Logos