Paperback Dreams

Watch Paperback Dreams

"Can an independent book store survive against the megastores?"
  • NR
  • 2008
  • 7.2  (14)

Paperback Dreams is a 2008 documentary film that explores the decline of independent bookstores in America, focusing primarily on two iconic stores in the Bay Area - Kepler's Books in Menlo Park and Cody's Books in Berkeley. The film takes its viewers on a journey through the heyday of these establishments in the 60s and 70s, marked by the countercultural revolution, and contrasts it against the struggles they faced in the 21st century with the rise of online retail giants and corporate chains.

Directed by Alex Beckstead and produced by Elaine Katzenberger, the movie features interviews with bookstore owners, employees, customers, authors, and industry experts, who share their personal experiences, insights, and opinions about the role of independent bookstores in the cultural, social, and economic fabric of their communities. The film also includes archival footage and photographs that capture the spirit of the times and bring to life the characters and events that shaped these literary institutions.

One of the main protagonists of the film is Clark Kepler, the founder of Kepler's Books, which opened in 1955 and became a hub for the local intellectual and artistic scene. With his visionary approach to bookselling, Kepler pioneered the concept of author readings, book discussion groups, and community outreach programs, which attracted a loyal and diverse following. However, in the early 2000s, Kepler's Books faced financial difficulties due to declining sales and rising operational costs, and had to close its doors in 2005.

The other main character is Andy Ross, the former owner of Cody's Books, which started as a small used bookstore in 1956 and evolved into a renowned outlet for progressive and alternative literature. Ross, who took over the management of Cody's in 1977, expanded its offerings to include mainstream titles and even opened a second store in San Francisco. However, in 2006, Cody's Books went bankrupt and was eventually sold to a corporate chain.

Throughout the film, various other independent booksellers and their supporters express their frustration, sadness, and anger at the changing landscape of the book industry, which they see as a threat to intellectual diversity, community building, and democracy. They argue that online shopping and big-box stores prioritize profits over quality of service, personal interaction, and intellectual exchange. They also point out that the concentration of power in the hands of a few mega-corporations poses barriers to entry for small businesses, stifles innovation, and diminishes the value of books as cultural artifacts.

In addition to presenting the challenges facing independent bookstores, Paperback Dreams also provides a glimmer of hope by showcasing the resilience, creativity, and solidarity of the bookselling community. The film documents the efforts of Kepler's Books to reopen after its closure, with the help of a community-led campaign that raised over $1 million in donations. It also features other examples of successful bookstores that embraced new technologies, diversified their offerings, and established strong relationships with their clientele.

Overall, Paperback Dreams is a poignant and thought-provoking tribute to the independent bookselling movement, which serves not only as a source of entertainment and education, but also as a platform for social and political activism. As Joan Baez II, one of the interviewees in the film, sums up, "Independent bookstores are where you find your intellectual warriors."

Paperback Dreams is a 2008 documentary. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 7.2.

Where to Watch Paperback Dreams
Paperback Dreams is available to watch, stream, download and on demand at Amazon Prime. Some platforms allow you to rent Paperback Dreams for a limited time or purchase the movie and download it to your device.
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  • IMDB Rating
    7.2  (14)