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There’s quite a furor going on throughout the interweb this week, following James Patterson’s decision to take out a full page ad in the New York Times Book Review and Publishers Weekly noting the decline of physical bookstores and traditional publishers, and suggesting that government intervention might be required in order to make sure important books are still being written in the years to come. Here’s copy of the ad:
Here’s the text in full:
"If there are no bookstores, no libraries, no serious publishers with passionate, dedicated, idealistic editors, what will happen to our literature? Who will discover and mentor new writers? Who will publish our important books? What will happen if there are no more books like these?"
Then there's a list of 38 books including “All the President’s Men”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Catch 22”, and many others considered to be classics.
"The Federal Government has stepped in to save banks, and the automobile industry, but where are they on the important subject of books? Or if the answer is state and local government, where are they? Is any state doing anything? Why are there no impassioned editorials in influential newspapers or magazines? Who will save our books? Our libraries? Our bookstores?"
James Patterson is the highest earning author in the world, pulling in over $94 million dollars a year, and publishing 14 – 16 books a year under his name. Arguably, Patterson is more like a publishing company himself these days – he doesn’t write books any more, instead he outsources the work to co-authors after coming up with an outline himself. A brilliant tactic, and one of many marketing strategies Patterson has used throughout his career to great success. As one of the world’s most forward-thinking writers, I’m surprised that JP has such an outmoded view of the publishing landscape – whatever happened to moving with the times? Not only is much of Patterson’s statement factually incorrect, but, if taken seriously, could very well damage the book industry beyond repair. Let’s take a look, shall we?
“If there are no bookstores, no libraries, no serious publishers with passionate, dedicated, idealistic editors, what will happen to our literature?”
Literature will continue to be written, arguably even more so than before, without the help of publishers and editors. In fact, were publishers and editors less concerned about making a quick buck, and more concerned about developing sustainable and profitable relationships with authors, readers, bookstores and libraries, nobody would be going out of business at all.
“Who will discover and mentor new writers?”
Readers will discover writers just fine without the help of traditional publishers or bricks-andmortar bookstores. They already do – a decent proportion of the top 100 bestsellers on Amazon are indie, and that’s getting bigger and bigger every day. As for mentoring, there are plenty of critique groups, forums, writer communities, and writing classes out there to choose from – we don’t need a publisher or an editor to pick one out for us.
“Who will publish our important books?”
Authors will. And they’ll earn three times as much as a result, further spurring them to release more important books and improve their skills as an author. Surely the question should be – “who will write our important books?” The answer to that has always been the same – authors. Not publishers. Authors. Remember that.
“What will happen if there are no more books like these?" [Referencing the list of 38 classic
titles] That’s not a realistic or likely scenario – writers will continue to write, and books will continue to sell, long after the last traditional publisher has closed their doors. After all, a publishing company offers distribution, cover design, formatting, editing, and marketing services – things that authors can easily outsource themselves. What exactly will we be missing out on, again? If bookstores
and libraries close down, it’s because of poor business planning or lack of demand for paper books. Why not adapt? Why continue to sell expensive books nobody wants and figure out what your customer is really after? Physical books will always be popular, but you better believe that customers aren’t going to be buying them the same way they used to.
“The Federal Government has stepped in to save banks, and the automobile industry, but where are they on the important subject of books? Or if the answer is state and local government, where are they? Is any state doing anything?”
They don’t need to - they stepped in to help banks and car makers because to not do so, would cause severe economic depression and tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of jobs lost. Books will always be written and will always sell – just because that’s not through bookstores anymore, doesn’t mean the whole world is going to hell. Really want to help get people reading more books? Buy everyone a Kindle.
“Why are there no impassioned editorials in influential newspapers or magazines?”
Beats me – I guess it’s because the public doesn’t want to read about stories like this. Because, guess what, they don’t care. They can still buy the books they want to read, easier than they ever could before, so why should they care whether they bought them from an indie author, a trad pub author, from a physical bookstore, or from an internet site? Nobody really cared when record stores closed either – and why? Because everyone was already using iTunes and Spotify, that’s why.
“Who will save our books? Our libraries? Our bookstores?"
Books don’t need saving. As for libraries – if publishers eased up on the draconian ways in which they licence books for libraries, removed DRM from ebooks, and made more titles available at more reasonable prices, libraries would be better positioned to thrive. As for bookstores, these old-school business models need to learn to compete in a modern world, just as Hollywood and the music biz learned to adapt to Netflix, Hulu, Lovefilm, Piratebay, iTunes, Spotify, Youtube, and all the other digital streaming media. Instead of lamenting their own demise, why don’t bookstores come up with new and innovative ways to compete? In short – why not save themselves? And there’s the rub. For the first time, traditional publishers are having to find new reasons to justify their existence. Now that authors can source their own distribution channels (for digital, print, and audiobook), cover designers, editors, formatters, proof readers, marketing services, and earn more money while having more control over their careers, publishers are suddenly finding themselves obsolete. As a result, bookstores (a publisher’s prime customer) and libraries are finding themselves squeezed tighter and tighter. But books are not in danger. Authors are not in danger. Literature will not suffer. Arguing that books will no longer be produced without the existence of publishers and bookstores is no more logical than saying that without estate agents nobody would have a house to live in. Writers produce books, not publishers. Not bookstores. Not libraries. The sooner the industry accepts that and adapts, the better off they’ll be. Mr Patterson's closing remark following an interview for Salon: "The president could stand up
and say, “bookstores are important, libraries are important.” Laura and Barbara Bush both did.
Now, not so much — Michelle [Obama] hasn’t taken it up. She has a lot of causes, but this isn’t one of them."
How about we re-phrase that? It's reading that's important. It's books that are important. Publishers, bookstores, and libraries cannot possibly be more important than the very things they provide to the public. And, in years to come, when Amazon is no longer king of the book selling world, will they lament their own demise? No. They'll have seen it coming and worked out how to turn it to their advantage.
Nick Stephenson is VP & Chief Editor of EpubUniverseUK and a bestselling author of mysteries and thrillers – available at Amazon here: http://viewauthor.at/NickStephenson
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