Last week, Amazon and Hachette Book Group announced they had reached an agreement on a multi-year contract, ending a lengthy stand-off that prompted hundreds of authors to speak out against Amazon’s negotiation tactics. One of the highest-profile voices was bestselling novelist James Patterson.
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Next week, Patterson will launch a new public awareness campaign to encourage reading. The campaign includes a television ad featuring a public book burning, and a request to President Obama that he pledge to make reading a national priority. And in an interview earlier this week, Patterson says Amazon could be doing more to encourage reading.
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Tell me about the new campaign to encourage reading and book-buying.
We really try and discourage apathy and neglect as much as anything. You know I mean, look, we’re in this transitional period with e-books. And what’s happened in the last ten years or so is we’ve gone from 10,000 or so bookstores to less than 3,000. I don’t think that’s great. We have teenagers now reading books less than eight minutes a week. I don’t think that’s great. And I don’t think people are paying much attention to it. So not to go crazy with puns, but I really want to try to light a fire under the issue and get people to pay more attention.
When the Amazon thing came up, I can’t say that I did it by myself, but a few writers got up and we did light a fire under a lot of writers. And I think the same thing can happen here in terms of getting people upset about, hey, what is going to happen to our books? What is going to happen if we don’t have any publishers around?
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But what would be the sign that it was? What’s the goal here? More independent bookstores, more book sales?
I think the goal is just more people reading. And to do that, a lot of things have to happen. Actually, to me, the group that can do the most good here is Amazon. Amazon could actually dedicate itself to saving books and literature in this country. It really could. And that would be the easiest fix, directionally.
I think they probably think they’re doing that, but they’re not, at least not yet. Yes, they want to lower prices, and you know, theoretically that’s fine, but I don’t know how we’d do that on a practical level and keep stores… You know, in terms of evolving the system as opposed to fracturing the system, [Amazon is] in a position to do something. The government is in a position to do something. Ironically, you know, we have a very liberal president, and he doesn’t seem terribly interested in the subject, unfortunately. I know he’s got a lot on his plate already, but you know. I mean, look, all over Europe you have governments who protect the publishers and protect books.
Yeah, there was that New York Times Bookends piece recently about how France treats books as an “essential good,” like food and utilities. They’re taxed at lower rates, price discounts are pretty severely controlled. Is that a model that you think would be useful?
No, I don’t think it’s a model, but I think it’s something to pay attention to. I think the government could be more involved. I mean, obviously the government has stepped in when banks were in trouble and the automobile business was in trouble. I think it’s something that local, state and federal government could be doing more.
This is once again symbolic, the kind of leadership pledge, you know. We’re gonna ask people to write to the President, write to their Congress and their representatives. And have the President take a pledge that once a month, he’ll appear in public carrying a book, he’ll visit a library store, or you know, the local representative.
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Yeah, that’s pretty accessible stuff. Well you mentioned earlier that Amazon could be doing more. What do you think Amazon could be doing more of?
They can save reading. They can get in there, they can just encourage people to read. One of the things, and I actually talked to Jeff Bezos about this, was when it was in their business interest to really get people knowing about the Kindle, I mean, you could not go on that site without getting tempted and blasted about, Try this Kindle, try this Kindle, you gotta try this, it’s free, we’ll give you a million dollars if you try this.
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 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.
As PG read this, he realized what a terrible fix the world would be in if James Patterson ever stopped telling everyone what to do.