We already knew that Berkeley is one of the nation’s brainiest cities. Today, Amazon.com released data that shows that Berkeley is the third best-read city in the country.
Amazon, by far the largest bookseller in the world, looked at its sales data since the beginning of the year for books, magazines and newspapers, in both print and Kindle form, for all cities larger than 100,000. Cambridge, MA, home of both MIT and Harvard, unsurprisingly tops the table on a per head basis.
Perhaps some readers will do a double take at the second city on the list, Alexandria, VA, until they think of the large numbers of policy wonks and military-industrial analysts in the Washington, D.C. Beltway community (Arlington, home of the Pentagon, figures at 10th in the list, and D.C. itself lands at 14th).
Berkeley’s heady place in the rankings might be a mixed blessing for the independent bookstores in town (Berkeleyside, by the way, never links to Amazon for books — we’d rather our readers go to a Berkeley bookstore). Or, perhaps, if it were possible to aggregate the Amazon data with sales from local stores, Berkeley would do even better.
What does Berkeley’s high ranking say about its citizens’ loyalty to independent bookstores? Doris Moskowitz, owner of Moe’s Books which has been on Telegraph Avenue since 1959, said she is not so much surprised by the revelation, as distressed.
“All the local booksellers are saying, “where is everyone?’,” she said. “We can tread water — we even sell collectible and rare books to Amazon — but it feels much better to have a store full of people.”
Getting real people together to savor books and meet authors is, of course, one advantage independent bookstores have over online retailers like Amazon. Last night, for instance, Moe’s kicked off a cookbook discussion series with chef Suzanne Drexhage who brought homemade wine and revealed her list of favorite, and most useful, cookbooks.
The number of independent bookstores in Berkeley has declined. The most notable loss was the closure in 2008 of Cody’s. Sunrise Bookshop, which has been located on Telegraph near Moe’s for 37 years, is poised to close in June. The past few years have seen openings too, Mrs Dalloway’s and William Stout among them. But, as any of the independent store owners will tell you, the biggest threat to their livelihoods is online booksellers, a market dominated by Amazon.