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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Grants Are Great But Not a Long-Term Solution

The biggest news in the book world this week, which I mention in case you have been vacationing on Mars and missed all the announcements, is that bestselling author James Patterson is giving a million dollars in grant money to over fifty independent bookstores across the United States. Julie Bosman, writing for the New York Times, claims, “Independent bookstores ... have found themselves a Daddy Warbucks.” The Warbucks analogy makes for a catchy sentence, but it’s unlikely that Patterson will be coming back to the same bookstores again and again to rescue them from oblivion, and the recipients of the grants aren't counting on that, either. They are, however, making plans to do things they would otherwise be unable to do so quickly or easily, if at all.

One of my regular customers (and a good friend) asked if I’d applied. No, I didn’t. New books are only a fraction of my shop’s inventory, I’m not in a major city, I have no paid staff – I didn’t think I would fit the profile. But I'm happy for all those whose mini-grant applications were funded.

It’s very generous of Patterson to shell out a million dollars to independent bookstores, especially since, with his reputation, he could live the rest of his life on the profits from online sales. (Can you imagine if your novels accounted for one out of every 17 hardcover novels sold for four years running?) What he realizes – and clearly deeply cares about – is that in the current business climate, not only are bookstores “at risk” (chains as well as indies, if not more so), but also libraries, publishers, and “the future of American literature.” In my view, it is the attention he brings to these issues that has value far above and beyond the individual grants to individual bookstores.

Did everyone reading today’s post notice the new banner text at the top of the Books in Northport site? I feel I need to be much more up-front about the difference between Dog Ears Books and the online behemoth seller of “everything.” (If you think the behemoth seller is creating jobs, please read what one of the most wealthy one-percenters has to say.) Behemoth does not even have highest possible profits as a goal: the goal is nothing short of world domination, annihilating all competition, leaving nothing but scorched earth for “consumers.”

Please ask yourselves these questions: How long will books remain “cheap” (cheapened by the behemoth) if market world domination is achieved? More importantly – the question implied in Patterson’s warning – what level of quality can we continue to expect of books (whether physical, virtual, residing in clouds, or whatever), and what variety will be available, in the event that the behemoth succeeds in the world domination plan? What will get “published,” and what won’t? What books will you hear about, and how?

Recently I wrote that more and more I feel like a “character in a fantasy novel.” It isn’t that I consider my tiny contribution to the world of literature the deciding factor in literature’s future – hardly! I can be called a lot of things but not, I think, a megalomaniac! What I do believe, very strongly, is that it’s important for each small individual to do his or her part to bring about the world we want to see in the future. This is my Sixties background: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

And if you want, if you value, for yourselves, your children, your grandchildren, a future with bookstores, with libraries, with bona fide quality publishers, and a future in which at least a few novelists and poets and writers can make a living by writing, while the rest make at least part of their living that way, you need to consider very carefully where you make your book purchases. It matters. If my bookstore were to vanish tomorrow, it would still matter.

The way we live today is shaping the world of tomorrow.

***Please see my previous post and leave a comment to qualify for a drawing in the current book giveaway, courtesy of Viking Books. Sorry, overseas readers, the offer is good only within the United States. But thank you, as always, for visiting Books in Northport.

February 2012 - still one of my favorite pictures


Anonymous said...

As always, I wish we lived closer. You know I'd be in often!

twessell said...

Pamela, I love your new banner text! Thanks for fighting the good fight and being one of Northport's treasures. Also, thanks for always being able to deliver on special orders and for being a full-service quality bookstore.


Karen Casebeer said...

I can see why this is one of your favorite pictures, Pamela. I wonder how the same picture taken in February, 2014 would compare? Karen

Anonymous said...

You might appreciate the expose of Amazon in this week's New Yorker. It's quite a shocker!

P. J. Grath said...

I read the New Yorker article, and nothing in it surprised me. It was one source of my inspiration to change my blog's banner. We also watched the film "Inequality for All," and please note that I have added Robert Reich's blog to my list in the right-hand column. Thanks, Bettie, Ty, and Karen. Now if you comment on the post previous to this one, you could win a free book!

Karen Casebeer said...

Pamela...Inequality for All was my favorite film of last summer's TC Film Fest. While we all know that the middle class has taken and continues to take a financial beating while the rich keep getting richer, this film did a wonderful job of giving a perspective of why that is happening. I recommend it to everyone I can. Karen

P. J. Grath said...

What's true for books and bookstores is also true for farmers, farm markets, and even traditional grocery stores. See -- what's most shocking is that the wealthiest shoppers are the most likely to shop the cheapest big box stores. After all, can't have any of that wealth trickling down, can we?

Dawn said...

The fight of the small independent against the large corporation feels the same as our fight against the trucking industry taking over our roads. Sometimes it feels impossible to win, but if you keep fighting you will win small victories and the small stuff adds up. It's a battle though, for sure.

Personally I'd like a world where librarians and writers were more important than they appear to be today. Two generations from now who knows what the world will be like.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, I agree that "winning" is such a distant goal that it can't be the deciding factor in wether or not to go on. We just go on, don't we? I too wonder about the future for our grandchildren. One new development that has me stymied these days is how changes in economic reality are pitting booksellers and librarians against each other. Or so it seems to me. Twenty, even only ten years ago, I was firm in my position that my bookstore was not in competition with area libraries. I didn't feel we were. Our services seemed so different, and I was convinced there was not only room for both bookstores and libraries but a very real need for both. Lately, with many libraries experiencing cuts in funding, librarians seem to be moving ever deeper into bookselling waters. This is hard for me. Librarians have always been my friends! I'm really baffled at this juncture. What to do? How can libraries and bookstores SUPPORT each other, rather than compete? Is it possible? As a bookseller, I already do without the salary, paid vacation and sick days, pension, etc., so it's hard for me to see how and where I can give up any more ground.