In a world filled with big-box booksellers and behemoth Internet retailers, independent bookstores don’t have it easy. But for more than 50 stores across the country, help is coming from an unlikely fairy godfather.
Mega-selling author, James Patterson — more associated with airport bookracks than personable bookshops — has started a program to give away $1 million to dozens of bookstores, allowing them to “invest in improvements, dole out bonuses to employees and expand literacy outreach programs,” reports The New York Times.
“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.”
To those familiar with the 66-year-old Patterson, the move may not come as much of a surprise. Last year, the author of the Alex Cross detective books placed full-page ads in The New York Times Book Review and Publishers Weekly suggesting that federal buyouts, like the ones for Wall Street and the automobile industry, should be directed to the bookstore business as well.
As one of the industry’s wealthiest writers, he is able to take matters into his own hands. The author, who consistently lands on top of richest authors lists, releases a remarkable 13 books a year through his publisher, Hachette. From 2006 to 2010, his books accounted for one out of every 17 hardcover novels purchased in the United States.
Lucky recipients to share in his fortune run the gamut from Percy’s Burrow in Topsham, Me., to Page & Palette in Fairhope, Ala., to A Whale of a Tale in Irvine, Calif.
Michael Pietsch, the chief executive of Hachette, said that while some shops have blossomed, there has been “a cataclysmic loss in the number of independent bookstores” over the last few decades. “The stores that have weathered the significant downturn have had very good years recently,” Pietsch said. “But there are many stores that have not had that success.”
Along with increasingly thin profit margins and competition from chain booksellers, independent bookstores have been hit hard with the consumer shift to e-books. And although bookshops offer a community unique perks and engender a lot of loyalty, online discounters have turned the independent bookseller’s business model upside-down.
Patterson began the project last year by spreading the word that checks ranging from $2,000 to $15,000 would be available for grants, according to a spokeswoman for Patterson.
“I’m rich; I don’t need to sell more books,” 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.”
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