Who Will Save Our Books?

With multiple books on the New York Times bestseller lists, author James Patterson doesn't need any help, but he thinks that the book industry does. So he has paid for an ad in the New York Times Book Review and Publishers Weekly calling for government bailouts for books:

"The Federal Government has stepped in to save banks, and the automobile industry, but where are they on the important subject of books? Or, if the answer is state and local government, where are they? Is any state doing anything? Why are there no impassioned editorials in influential newspapers or magazines? Who will save our books? Our libraries? Our bookstores"

Daniel D'Addario of Slate interviewed Patterson on why he decided to raise the call for help for the publishing industry:

So do you think a bailout of books is actually realistic? Or was it a kind of purposefully outlandish “Modest Proposal“?

I don’t think it’s a question of bailing out, necessarily. In Germany, Italy, and France, they protect bookstores and publishers. It is widely practiced in parts of Europe. I don’t think that’s outlandish. But people have mixed feelings about the government doing anything right now.

I haven’t thought about it but I’m sure there are things that can be done. There might be tax breaks, there might be limitations on the monopolies in the book business. We haven’t gotten into laws that should or shouldn’t be done in terms of the internet. I’m not sure what needs to happen, but right now, nothing’s happening.

The press doesn’t deal with the effects of e-books as a story. Borders closing down is treated as a business story. Where we are in Westchester during the summer, you’d think that’d be a bookstore haven, and there’s nothing. And that’s not unusual. I don’t think we can be the country we’d like to be without literature.


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On average, all sectors included, brick and mortar stores need around 30% margin to live, as internet based retail needs 15%. As a B&M store owner, there's NOTHING I can do about that. I can work my marketing magics to please customers, but when it comes to pricing... I'm a dead store walking.
And I didn't talk about disintermediation when the manufacturer scraps its retail chain and goes online directly. Cheaper for the consumer... but he lost his job!
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Publishing is going through a disruption transformation because of new technology - the ebook. I think that the experience that Best Buy has concerning 'showrooming' is relevant. People go to Best Buy and feel the product, then order it online. I've done the same at B&N because the price difference was too dramatic to ignore. If bricks and mortar stores could solve that issue they would come up with a winning business model.

I notice that B&N devotes a lot of floor space (and inventory expense) to keeping multiple copies of many paper books on the shelf. At the same time they have a tiny cafe and almost zero seating elsewhere in the store. I think that's backwards. I think they would be more successful with a store-wide cafe setting with lots of seating while providing in-house WiFi to their catalog.

That WiFi could be subsidized with ads for books and other offerings. If they made the space an experience all by itself, they might even be able to charge an entry fee.
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