Berkeley bookstores surviving in the technology age

Teen Observer staffers interviewed several local bookstore employees about their experiences competing against the biggest giant in the e-book and physical book market, Amazon.

BERKELEY, Calif. — There are over one dozen independent bookstores within a one-mile radius of the University of California, Berkeley campus. In a world where practically any book is one click away from conveniently arriving at your doorstep, what makes a bookstore special?

Many bookstores worldwide have closed as a result of Amazon’s ability to outcompete the traditional “brick and mortar” libraries, including two shops in the Berkeley area within the past year.

“Berkeley has become more of a tech town,” Half Price Books employee Jim Hotti said. “There’s more drive for technology and less drive for actual physical books,” he added.

Hotti attributes the downfall of bookstores to Amazon’s generally lower prices and convenience.

“Most people aren’t willing to pay $25 to $30 for a brand-new bestseller hardcover. They’ll download it on a Kindle or a tablet device that they have.”

Half Price Books uses Amazon as a resource for pricing, but Hotti says that it is “nearly impossible” to compete with the online retail giant.

Stanley Sobolewski, the store manager of Moe’s Bookstore on Telegraph Avenue, echoes the sentiment of using Amazon as a guide for pricing. Moe’s Bookstore sells used books online through Amazon as well, which they say has helped business.

Moe's Bookstore on Telegraph Avenue. Photo by Danny Emerman

Moe’s Bookstore on Telegraph Avenue started in 1959. Photo by Danny Emerman

“We’ve adopted to it. If [Amazon] didn’t exist, I don’t know if our business would be stronger or weaker, but the Internet in general has added a lot of benefit,” Sobolewski said.

Berkeley native Lucas Buckman, who has worked for Pegasus Bookstore for nine years, says that the privately owned shop is in a relatively safe place financially as consumers have become smarter.

“The Internet was scary, but now it has sort of plateaued back,” Buckman said of the store that started another name in 1969 and the re-located and became Pegasus in 1983.

“I think now there’s a lot more education about online shopping versus supporting local businesses. That has evolved more than anything,” Buckman said. “There was an idea that books were going to be outdated, but they aren’t. They’re actually stronger,” he added, citing an upward trend in sales.

The dominance of the Internet has led to changes in book publishing and bookstores, but some avid readers take advantage of all the options.

Veri Lobos, a customer at Half Price Books, reads both e-books and paperbacks. She prefers hard copies because she said a hard copy presents fewer distractions than an electronic version.

“I love the smell of it, I love to use it, and maybe it is for myself. And I have proper time with my books. You can be more focused on the paper books, more than on an e-book,” Lobos said.

“I don’t think paper books are going to disappear,” Lobos said. “E-books are very useful, but I don’t think they are going to replace the paper books,” she added.

Neither Half Price Books, Moe’s Bookstore nor Pegasus Books sells e-books. “There will always be people who will buy paper books and like the physicalness of it,” Hotti said.

Pegasus Bookstore on Shattuck Avenue. Photo by Danny Emerman

Pegasus Bookstore on Shattuck Avenue is a local landmark near the Berkeley campus and now has three locations. Photo by Danny Emerman