If you read the New York Times Book Review or subscribe to Publishers Weekly, you probably already know that author James Patterson recently took out ads in both publications, calling for a government rescue of publishing, bookselling and libraries. If you didn't know about it, I'm sorry to break the news.
People say all sorts of things about what ails publishing, and I could probably make full-time work out of responding to each of them. Fortunately, there are people who write faster and more completely than I do. For a full reaction to Patterson's plan, you should read Konrath on Patterson and August Wainwright on well, Patterson.
Truthfully, I admire James Patterson for taking action, even if he hasn't quite figured out what actions he wants us to take. As he told Salon, "I haven’t thought about it but I’m sure there are things that can be done." He's right; there are things that can be done. As Konrath and Wainwright explain, traditional publishers have been slow to do some of those things.
The thing that intrigued me most about Patterson's appeal has its roots in the argument I made in "The opportunity in abundance". Publishing faces a superthreat that affects all of us: people not reading. Unfortunately, no one part of the supply chain can fix that problem on its own.
Worse, the needs of various supply-chain participants are not fully aligned. In the case of libraries, publishers have often treated them as adversaries. As Konrath points out, publishers on their own could do quite a bit to "save" libraries, if the relationships were reframed.
I agree that we do need to "do something", but it needs to be part of a more mindful, broader effort to grow reading. Patterson has the right idea, and he has put some of his own resources toward efforts to grow literacy among school-age children. Those actions are notable.
But there's a difference between "doing something" to solve the underlying problem and "doing something" to preserve the current business model. One is critical; the other is impossible … even with a bailout.