Salon Magazine has an interview with bestselling author and literary franchise James Patterson that is refreshingly free of the anti-Amazon rhetoric that has characterized both institutions of late. At least they’re not currently trashing Amazon for what it’s doing. They’re complaining about what Amazon ought to be doing but isn’t. And I can’t say that I necessarily disagree.

Patterson is planning to launch a new public awareness campaign to encourage reading, following on the heels of his $1 million in grants to bookstores. The campaign will include a TV ad featuring a public book-burning (a bit of a cliché, but an effective attention-getter nonetheless) and a request to President Obama to pledge to make reading a national priority.

Patterson sees it as a real problem that kids aren’t reading as broadly as they used to. He wants to do whatever he can to encourage that. He acknowledges that the $1 million in grants to bookstores was largely symbolic, meant to bring publicity to bookstores’ plight in general beyond the couple of hundred stores it was able to help. He also explains what he thinks Amazon could be doing to help.

Right now what’s happened is you’ve got about 30% less people going into bookstores, and that includes a lot of parents and grandparents or whatever. Kids have not switched to tablets for reading. That has not happened. They’re not reading e-books. So what you have in a third of households now, is the kids aren’t reading any more. The parents aren’t going into the bookstores and they’ve switched to e-books, but they haven’t switched their families. And what I said to Jeff [Bezos] was that you really need to educate all these people that are using the Kindle that a) It’s okay to have more than one in the house, just like you have five phones in the house, it’s okay, and secondly, don’t be afraid that your kids are gonna wind up buying a dozen books in a year. That’s okay too. That’s excellent, actually.

But they have to be educated, because right now families say that they haven’t really, they haven’t thought about it enough, they don’t, “I don’t know, Kindle, can my kids have one?” They don’t even think about it or worry about it. So net, you have a much larger percentage than ever where the kids are not reading anything except what they read in school.

Patterson hasn’t exactly been quiet about the Amazon/Hachette dispute. If he can now turn his penchant for speaking up toward a great cause like promoting literacy, that’s great. I don’t think anyone can deny that it needs all the help it can get.


  1. James Patterson does seem exceptional today. He and his writing team make buckets of money, but he’s also generous at giving much of it away. That’s unlike many of today’s super-rich who, even today remain so zealous pro-Obama (he can hardly find enough time for the $10,000/plate dinners they want to attend) because insisting that every problem is a government problem means they need not do what they want least to do–be generous.

    The classic illustration of that came in the days of the fruity iMacs. Apple held an event to demonstrate their multi-media ability and to be politically correct had both rich celebrity kids and poor inner-city kids there.

    At the end, the celebrity kids—whose parents could afford to buy an iMac without blinking an eye—were given the iMacs they’d used to take home. The poor kids were told that in a few weeks the iMacs they’d used would be donated to their schools. It was, I thought at the time, a near perfect illustration of how many of the rich view the poor. Fortunately, enough outrage was generated, that Apple was force to give the poor kids iMacs of their own.


    Motivating Amazon is likely to run up against a different barrier, its utter incomprehension of encouraging more and wider reading as anything other that a publicity and image-making ploy. What Walmart is to healthy food, Amazon is to healthy reading. For both, what they’re selling—food or books—is simple a source of income. If junk makes more money, they’re all for junk. All else is pretense.

    You see that with Amazon’s royalty scheme, which is one so bizarre it simultaneously manages to raise the price of ebooks for kids that ought to be inexpensive and to double that of textbooks and speciality ebooks for students and professionals.

    Amazon’s only focus seems to be on where the biggest sales are—popular fiction and biography priced from $2.99 to $9.99. There it pays (grudgingly and less an inflated download fee) 70% because that’s what Apple forces them to pay to compete.

    For book outside that price range it pays a scrooge-like 35%, which is only 10% better than publishers pay authors for ebooks and those publishers help an author’s sales. Amazon does nothing for it’s 65% slice of retail.

    For a 99-cent ebook I have for both Kindles and iBooks, Amazon pays me 35 cents per sale and Apple 70 cents. Amazon is offering an enormous incentive to price books kids might like 300% higher by paying 600% more to those who raise the price from 99 cents to $2.99. You don’t need to be a rocket scientists to know that discouraging reading by kids. You don’t need to be brilliant to know that Amazon is run by jerks who don’t care about getting kids to read more books. It’s embedded into the very structure of how they sell ebooks.

    I’ve done the math elsewhere, but above $9.99, Amazon miserly royalties do much the same. They force those publishing textbooks and other ebooks with limited circulation to double their cost to recoup their expenses.

    A nursing textbook that could sell for $20, if Apple’s flat 70% royalty was also true at Amazon, instead must sell for $40 to deal with that rotten 35% royalty rate, with Amazon pocketing $26 for that sale while doing absolutely nothing to write, edit, proof, layout, illustrate, format, publish, or promote that book. Are you getting a hint as to why I loathe what Amazon is doing to the richness and diversity of publishing?

    It’s that sort of thing that explains why I’m not an Amazon fanboy like many of those who write for Teleread and why I think expecting goodness from the company is a bit like trying to extract water from a brick. Amazon has made it quite clear that it is in the book business for the money and the money alone and that, if it has its way, author royalties will drop to 50% or less and come attached to numerous restrictions on what an author can or cannot do. That will be a disaster for independent authors.

    For an illustration of that, read what Mark Coker wrote in his latest Smashwords blog posting:

    At every writers conference I attend, I’m surprised by the number of indie authors who ask, “How do I decide between Amazon and Smashwords?” The question belies an unfortunate truth about the state of indie publishing – a scary large number of authors publishing at Amazon think Amazon requires exclusivity. Not true! Yes, they’ll poke and prod you to go exclusive, but you can say no. I recently wrote a short post for the IBPA (International Book Publishers Association) on this subject titled, Exclusive is Actually Optional at Amazon. Do your indie author friends a favor and help them understand the benefits of global distribution.

    Do you think it’s an accident that so many authors think Amazon requires exclusivity and publish no where else to their detriment? Quite a bit of what the company says either leaves that impression or leaves authors feeling that they’ll be treated less well if they don’t give Amazon an exclusive.

    Read Coker’s article in its entirety. He believes ebook publishing is entering into difficulty times but offers encouragement and helpful suggestions that are well worth reading.

  2. I think Patterson is focusing on the wrong partner here. Did I miss where he talked about publisher involvement? And the one thing that bookstores have over Amazon is the personal touch. Get involved with the schools and libraries. Sponsor reading times either in the schools, libraries or day care centers. Make book donations to some of the inner schools. Have book fairs at work. I know they were always popular at the places I was at. This is something’s suited for the local level. I’m sure scholastic is doing some of that. What about the other publishers?

  3. Michael, we get it. You hate Obama and Amazon doesn’t pay you enough but the discussion at hand is not about politics or royalty rates or textbooks. It is about involving more children in read in and many of those books are available for less than five dollars. If they are ebooks, many classics are free or less than a dollar. The question is how to encourage children to read and encourage the parents to take part in it as well. Perhaps you have some constructive suggestions there? Sponsored teddy bearings, Thomas the Tank themes?

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