Clive Keeble is a bit like an old man whose friends keep dying. Every time a good independent bookshop closes, Clive gives a big sigh, puts on his black suit, and does the honourable thing by making sure that everyone knows.
This time it is at least a long way off. Not that that makes it any better. For 43 years, Cody's Books, in Berkeley, California, has served generations of UC Berkeley students from a position on the south side of campus. But it has been losing money for 15 years, and it can't go on. Details in the San Francisco Chronicle.
For an indication of what this means in human terms, see Anirvan Chatterjee's eulogy in the Bookfinder.com Journal.
I wonder if Cody's had competition from an official university bookshop. I mention that because, some twenty years ago, I visited an enormous university bookshop on the other side of America. In fact it was more like an aircraft hangar.
My first impressions were that this was the worst bookshop I had ever been in. The floor was bare concrete. The books -- which were virtually all textbooks -- were exactly as they were when sent out from the publishers' warehouse: they were packed in brown paper, standing on wooden pallets, line after line of them. The only attempt to display the book took the form of tearing open a package, taking one out, and putting it on the top of the pile.
Hmm, I said, very sniffily. This place could do with a good manager.
A few weeks later I had the opportunity to talk to the manager. And I discovered, of course, that in terms of sales per square foot, this was one of the most efficient bookshops in America. In those days (and, I dare say, now) American university teaching was heavily textbook orientated. Each lecturer would have one or more set books. Each week he would deal with one chapter of that book. And every student was obliged, if she wanted to pass the course, to have a copy of that book.
What this meant was that, at the start of each term, 20,000 students came into the bookshop, each of them needing to buy six, or ten, or whatever copies of a number of set books, none of which were cheap. All the bookshop had to do was make sure that there were sufficient copies of these, and take the money. No need for frills.
With competition like that, the small independents stood no chance.