Thursday, February 20, 2014

James Patterson tries to save bookstores

At left: The Open Book, the first place I ever worked here in South Carolina, closed its doors permanently four years ago.

Mega-successful author James Patterson is on a mission to save the beleaguered, independent bookstore. Good luck, James!

As I have written here before, I looove bookstores. And so many bookstores are closing; Amazon and e-books and the net have threatened the book industry. (In fact, my photo in that last link, Carolina Book Rack? Like the Open Book, it is now long gone.)

Patterson is giving away $1 million to bookstores, in what he calls a "bookstore bailout":

The best-selling author James Patterson has started a program to give away $1 million of his personal fortune to dozens of bookstores, allowing them to invest in improvements, dole out bonuses to employees and expand literacy outreach programs.

More than 50 stores across the country will begin receiving cash grants this week, from Percy’s Burrow in Topsham, Me., to Page & Palette in Fairhope, Ala., to A Whale of a Tale in Irvine, Calif.

“I just want to get people more aware and involved in what’s going on here, which is that, with the advent of e-books, we either have a great opportunity or a great problem,” he said. “Our bookstores in America are at risk. Publishing and publishers as we’ve known them are at stake. To some extent the future of American literature is at stake.”

The current health of independent bookstores is mixed. While some have benefited from the disappearance of the Borders chain in 2011 and a shrinking Barnes & Noble, the stores have been hit especially hard with consumers switching from paper copies to e-books.

And though many communities remain loyal to their shops, and the American Booksellers Association says its membership has recently grown, the online discounters have wreaked havoc on the independent bookseller’s business model.
Patterson began complaining last year, that the book industry needed a bailout from the feds, just like Wall Street got a bailout. Not surprisingly, nobody paid any attention, so he took matters into his own hands:
Last year, Mr. Patterson placed full-page ads in The New York Times Book Review and Publishers Weekly arguing that the federal government’s financial support of troubled industries like Wall Street and the automobile sector should extend to the bookstore business. Since that appears to be a pipe dream, Mr. Patterson decided to create his own bailout fund as part of his mission to promote literature, especially for children.

“I’m rich; I don’t need to sell more books,” Mr. Patterson said. “But I do think it’s essential for kids to read more broadly. And people just need to go into bookstores more. It’s not top of mind as much as it used to be.”

He began his project last year by getting the word to store owners that he was willing to begin writing them checks, which will range from $2,000 to $15,000, according to a spokeswoman for Mr. Patterson.

Bookstores responded with informal mini-proposals, explaining what they might do with some extra money. Bank Street Bookstore in Manhattan said it would use the funds to post and stream online video of in-store events. Hicklebee’s in San Jose, Calif., said it wanted to buy a new computer system, replacing its “small, ancient screens with green print” and perhaps bestow a bonus on its hardworking manager, Ann Seaton.

“I think it’s going to have a huge impact,” said Linda Marie Barrett, the general manager of Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, N.C., which successfully applied for a grant to replace badly worn carpeting and a damaged parquet floor. “He seems to be keenly aware that bookstores operate on small budgets.”
And I love seeing the name of MALAPROPS, one of my favorite places in the world, in the New York Times. I am SO PLEASED they are getting some of the bailout money... and believe me, their carpet sorely needs replacing!

I am wishing all the best to James Patterson and the bookstores... and wouldn't it be nice if other rich people took this kind of initiative, to help others in their field? Millionaire musicians should be helping music stores; millionaire athletes ought to be helping small-town teams; millionaire chefs should be teaching young folks to cook, etc etc etc. Let's see some civic responsibility, rich peeps!

As it is, it makes international news whenever Bill and Melinda Gates or James Patterson or Bruce Springsteen or Dolly Parton or Oprah or someone like that, spends money altruistically and helps regular people.

That should be the norm, not the exception.


D. said...

Yaay, James Patterson!

(Naming no names, there are other authors who could kick in here. Maybe set up a foundation or something…)

Gorgeous Gregg said...

Like everything else, the top 1% (maybe more like 20%....I don't know) of successful authors bring in the bulk of the income. That said, the actual writing of a book requires no input from corporate interests, and the technology to print a book is simple enough that books will be printed for the foreseeable future. For example, if you took your 150 best posts here and put them together, that could be turned into an ebook at once, but with printers as cheap and available as they are, you can also produce a printed copy at will.

What Patterson is doing is brilliant, and I too hope some of the folks at the top of the book world will follow this example. And yes, musicians etc. Really, for example, wouldn't those associated with music, instrument makers, publishers, artists, Hollywood etc...benefit from more music? Then where is the money? Band instruments? Symphonies and jazz concerts etc...but, it's their money. I believe in investing in people. Apparently so does Patterson.