Thanks to a holiday windfall, Left Bank Books in St. Louis plans to install a security system and possibly update its phones. Strand Book Store in New York City is looking to sponsor field trips that will bring in students from low income neighborhoods.
The extra cash comes courtesy of million-selling author and literary patron James Patterson, who announced Monday that he has given $473,000 to 81 independent sellers around the country in the third round of his campaign to keep local stores in business. Since launching the program a year ago, he has given more than $1million to 178 sellers. The money is dispersed in response to specific requests, such as a letter from Left Bank that said Patterson’s donation would allow the store to “breathe a huge sigh of relief as we invest the money we make selling books back into our community.”
During a recent telephone interview, Patterson said, “There aren’t a lot of positive stories about bookstores and publishing these days, so it’s nice to have a positive one, especially when it draws attention to individual stores.”
Even before Patterson stepped up to help, independent sellers had been rebounding from what seemed a permanent slide set off by the expansion of the Barnes & Noble and Borders superstore chains and hastened by the rise of Amazon.com. Since 2009, core membership of the American Booksellers Association, the trade group for independent sellers, has increased by more than 200. Some independents are even adding second or third stores, most recently the Illinois-based Anderson’s Bookshop.
But Patterson remains worried about the future for independent bookstores, citing a common opinion that the current improvement is at least partly due to the fall of Borders and the relative reluctance of kids to switch to e-books. He says he’s concerned not just by the power of Amazon, which controls some 40 percent of the book market, but also by the status of reading in general.
“It’s crazy that so few people are buying books for their kids,” said Patterson, who also sponsors a variety of initiatives to increase youth literary and donate books to troops, stores and libraries. His website, jamespatterson.com, recommends books from a number of authors, including Junot Diaz, Toni Morrison and William Manchester.
Patterson had planned the current round of bookstore donations to be his last, but he said that more donations are coming in 2015 and that an “ambitious plan to help school libraries” is in the works.
“In terms of my charities’ effectiveness, I know that a couple of hundred bookstores, thousands of student teachers, and hundreds of thousands of kids who received books from me in schools are better off for it,” he said. “From my point of view, that’s hard to beat.”