James Patterson on His Plan to Give Indies $1 Million
Author James Patterson plans to give a total of $1 million to independent bookstores in the next year. His main criteria are the stores be "viable" and have a children's section. Here he answers questions about the program that we put to him this week.
Why are you giving $1 million to independent bookstores?
I've become very concerned about the reading habit in America. I think e-books are a terrific development, but I don't think we as a society are really thinking through the implications of our changing retail landscape. I fundamentally believe our way of life is at risk if bookstores disappear.
In the past few years, I've been working to increase the role of reading in our lives--my site ReadKiddoRead helps parents and educators find addictive books for kids, I have teacher scholarships set up at 20 universities across the country, I have College Book Bucks and Summer Book Bucks, which award shopping sprees for kids to use at indies. And earlier this year I ran a print ad that I meant to be a little provocative: "Who will save our books, our bookstores, our libraries?"
This effort to help independents will hopefully be something of a shot in the arm for the book business. We need to do more than talk about this juncture. We need to do something about it.
You've said these grants could be of many sizes. Do you imagine that you will be helping many stores with smaller gifts rather than helping a few stores with larger gifts?
We're going to help as many stores as possible, and to do so as fairly as possible. I'd also like to prioritize stores that sell--or mean to sell--children's books. Because, of course, that's so often where the reading habit is forged, and where lives can really be saved.
I'm right now working to make sure we provide as fair and user-friendly a mechanism as possible.
How involved will you be in deciding how to assess requests and in disbursing grants?
An added benefit of running this is that I'll be granted a lay-of-the-land, in terms of what's going on across all the bookstores, and what's needed most. I'm excited to be very involved.
Will you seek the help of any organizations (like the American Booksellers Association) or people to help make decisions and to help in the process?
I'm a huge fan of the ABA. I do hope they help with the effort, and I'm sure more connections will help on a store-by-store basis.
Have you been influenced by any similar campaigns to help businesses or organizations on such a great scale?
There are great efforts from First Book and Reading Is Fundamental on the kids' side. The U.K. does something brilliant, a World Book Day in which all the kids can walk into a bookstore and get a free book--one of my Middle School books is on the docket for next year's. That's a great idea, and it works, year after year.
With this program, I'm looking to create something that I could possibly repeat in future years if it moves the needle, changes our habits.
Have you given grants like this before?
I ran the Pageturner Awards for a few years. I gave over $1 million for individuals or groups who had the most innovative ideas to encourage the reading habit. Submissions were all over the map, it was pretty exciting. Many bookstores were involved in those, but I stepped away from it to focus on ReadKiddoRead because it never got the kind of traction I hoped it would. With the indies rowing with me, I'm hoping things will be different this time.
Could you comment on the excited reception many booksellers have already given to your plan?
It's very heartening. And thank you, Shelf Awareness, for getting the word out about it, and about the larger issue of saving our books. The more attention to the issue, the better. I feel it's a very reasonable goal to reinvigorate books and reading in our lives. It just needs to be treated as the critical issue it is, or it will continue to be ignored.
Do you have any idea whether such gifts will be taxable for the recipients?
If so, we'll certainly endeavor to make it as easy as possible for people.
What else besides this program--in a more general way--do you think would help independent bookstores?
This is a must: parents have to take responsibility for their whole family's reading. They can't rely on teachers to instill the habit in kids. Parents have to make an activity out of visiting the bookstore, introducing everyone to how powerful it is to be in that environment. We have to teach our children that reading is the key to a successful life, but we also have to teach them that supporting the local booksellers, bolstering the kinds of businesses we want to see in our own communities, is everyone's responsibility. If we don't teach our children to be good citizens, good neighbors, good readers and thinkers, then I fear for the future of our country, and our children.