Connoisseurs of James Patterson’s grandstanding on behalf of the traditional book trade won’t be surprised to see this latest stunt. Patterson has now pledged to give $1 million of his own money to support independent bookstores in 2014. He appeared on CBS to announce the fact, in a segment subtitled “Man on a Mission,” ostensibly focused on saving lives – by encouraging kids to read – and saving bookshops.

Hailed in the Los Angeles Times as “the perennial bestseller and author of the Alex Cross novels,” Patterson has been here before – spending his own dough to defend a publishing and bookselling industry that, last time I checked, wasn’t exactly clamoring for his help. At least this time he isn’t trying to help out the publishing industry, which, as I wrote elsewhere, isn’t now doing that badly out of the digital revolution at all. Neither is Patterson himself, in all likelihood. “James Patterson has already sold more than 280 million books worldwide,” CBS pointed out. “He also holds the Guinness record for the most No. 1 New York Times best-sellers — 57 in all.”

To his credit, Patterson did speak out on behalf of child literacy in the U.S. “Be your kids’ friend, but you have to be their parent; and they have to read at home: The End,” he declared to America’s parents. No one could quarrel with that emphasis. But it was the second part of the segment that caught the headlines. “We’re going to give away $1 million over the next 12 months or so to independent bookstores,” he announced.

Although accepting the transition to ebooks, Patterson complained that “we’re not doing it in a organized, sane, civilized way.” Bookstores are closing, he continued, but also libraries are being closed or are no longer being funded. His donation, he said, “is going to help,” especially for bookstores with children’s sections. Otherwise, the segment at least was light on detail on how exactly the donation scheme would work. “James’s pledge to Booksellers,” on his website, gives a signup form for anyone wanting to receive information on the initiative. “James is pledging to help U.S. booksellers keep the life-changing reading habit alive and well in our local communities.”

Thanks, James. (You don’t mind if I call your by first name, do you?) And yes, I think it’s great of you to use all your money to help booksellers. After all, they were toiling all those years to fill your accounts: Time to give back a little. So nice that the big people think about the little guy every now and then. As you turn left when you get on the plane, I’m glad to see you’re flinging some notes over your shoulder. With this streak of philanthropy in you, at this rate they’ll be building monuments to you as the Andrew Carnegie or the John Pierpont Morgan of the printed page. And in America, money talks. Very, very loudly.



  1. Exactly, Diane! The details of a proposal for a national digital library endowment are at And, yes, some links could go from library catalogs to independent bookstores near readers. Among other things, the endowment could help pay for school librarians in the very poorest districts. Family literacy could be played up. Young people are more likely to read if their main role models – their parents – are.

  2. Paul, a big problem here in the States is that people focus excessively on corporately centered models. They all too often downplay the public side–e.g., libraries. Ideally we can educate James Patterson to be more appreciative of the synergies possible between public and private in the book world. I’d like to give him a chance. Totally agree with your Carnegie suggestion!

    And not just when it comes to Patterson. What about the .1-percent-of-1-percent? Bill Gates is worth $70B personally, and just a fraction of his wealth could go a long way toward a national digital library endowment. Of course I’d be happy to see publishers of all sizes benefit, but I’ll never forget the real people who need a bailout–school kids and other public library patrons. American public libraries are able to spend just $4.20 per year per capita on books and other content. That’s around $1.3 billion or about what we’re spending on military aid for Egypt!

    Wouldn’t it be nice if Bill Gates, his billionaire friends and Washington got national priorities right?

    When I approached Gates for comment on the national digital library endowment concept–via his PR representatives–the response was silence. This just might change if enough people spoke up. Even if Gates is now so miserly toward libraries, which receive just a speck of his foundation grants despite all the past ballyhoo about him as Carnegie II, maybe others can step in. Yes. I’m aware of his generosity in other fields and especially overseas, but America is the country that gave him his start, and what better way to show his appreciation than to justify the earlier publicity about him as a library benefactor? This certainly would be in the spirit of his Giving Pledge initiative.

    Of course, much of what I say might say about the super rich in the States might well apply to the UK, considering all the library closings over there. I’d encourage you to spread around the endowment idea on your side of the Pond. You never know who’ll act on it there or here. If something happens in the UK, a few of the American super rich just might follow in time. Again, the URL is


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