James Patterson’s Attempt to Stop Change

I don’t necessarily believe that all change is good even though that’s the fashion these days. We’re all supposed to embrace change and love change, as if everything that already exists is inferior, but sometimes change isn’t for the better, or is sideways. Our school board changed how they taught math, and that’s resulted in lower scores on standardized tests for kids in grades three to six, not exactly a good change.

But I do love the exciting changes in publishing since e-books really started making waves, although I recognize that some people will not fair well during this shift. Many bookstores will fail as people switch to e-books, and some publishers will lose market share to new publishers like Amazon’s 47North, or to the army of self-publishers.

I’ve heard many decry the loss of the local bookstore, and I sympathize with the owners. Certainly stores here in Toronto like Sleuth of Baker Street and Bakka Phoenix Books have been more than bookstores, they’ve been hubs for the mystery and SF community. But trying to stop the rise of e-books is like trying to hold back the tide.

That isn’t stopping best selling author James Patterson from making an attempt. First he took out ads in the New York Times Book Review calling for a government bailout to save publishers, bookstores and…libraries? Okay, let’s just skip over the fact that libraries are not going bankrupt. Patterson’s ad implies that without big publishers, no great literature will ever get published again. I guess he doesn’t know that Charles Dickens self-published A Christmas Carol.

Fortunately, the public are pretty fed up with government bailouts, so money for Random House (which is making a tidy profit thanks to e-book sales) and Barn & Noble is unlikely. But Patterson has decided to boldly put his money where he talks and is attempting to bail out independent bookstores all by himself. Yup, he’s promising to make one million dollars of donations  to books stores over the coming year. (I want to say one million dollars like Dr. Evil) The list of the first lucky fifty-five that’ll split around $267,000 was released today.

I think it’s super that he wants to help these unprofitable bookstores that are in danger of failing, but unless Paterson is willing to donate to them every year, I can’t see how this will help. The world is changing. Technology is changing. That’s life.

My wife and I co-own a media company, so believe me we know about change. She started out back in the mid 90s making websites, long before the tech boom and the tech bust, but if she were still trying to slowly HTML code websites like she did back in the good old days of the last century, the company would be insolvent. Stagnation is death in any industry, not just the tech industry.

I also admit to being a little suspicious of Patterson’s motives. He made 94 millions dollars last year, (where’s that Dr Evil voice when I need it) so it’s easy to see why he would like everything to just stay the same. Thousands of bookstore all over the continent prominently display his novels right at the front of the store, so that really keeps the momentum going. He’s got fat publishing contracts, and he sells so many books in one day that if it were my sales for an entire year, I’d be through the roof excited. (estimates are about 40,000 books/day)

Patterson writes very popular novels, and he’s a master of marketing, but there’s a conflict of interest when an author donates to the bookstores that sell his books. Will they order more when he stops by with a news crew to deliver a check? Will they put his books up front instead of Stephen King’s?

I doubt Patterson’s generous donations to book stores will change anything. It’s not just Kindles and Nooks and I-pads (oh my) It’s smart phones and tablets and who knows, maybe google glasses. Go on a bus somewhere and you’ll see people reading on all kinds of devices. They’re reading. Just because a tree didn’t die for it doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy the novel.

I used to work in the film industry loading magazines in the dark room on the camera truck. I usually handed off about ten 1000-foot rolls of exposed film a day to the A.Ds, each roll costing about $800 a pop, and they still need to be processed and transferred to video for editing. If it were a feature, eventually they’d need to hire a negative cutter. The first time I worked as an assistant camera on a digital show, I handed over two $100 HD video tapes that were ready to edit. I was damn a good film loader, but that day I discovered I might as well be a damn good buggy whip maker. It was time to retrain. Every TV show and movie shot in Toronto last year used digital cameras, and Kodak is still reeling from its bankruptcy. They thought film, the delivery system, would last forever and didn’t adjust quickly enough to the technology they had invented in 1974.

Patterson can’t stop the tide. Just ask the record companies how many CDs they sold last year. People still listen to music, they just buy it online. You can do that with books now.

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