James Patterson isn’t content to write one New York Times bestseller after another. He’s got a much bigger dream: to save America’s independent bookstores from extinction at the hands of technology. He’s putting his money where his mouth is and using his own personal funds that he’s earned as one of the most successful thriller writers of all-time. This year he plans to give $1 million to independent bookstores. Bookstores can apply directly for grants and readers can nominate their favorite bookstores to receive funding.

In February, Patterson sent the first round of checks totaling $267,000 to 54 bookstores across the country. To apply, bookstores only need to submit roughly a half-page explanation of what they need and why through Patterson’s website. In this first round, some bookstores will use the money to pay critical expenses like salaries and property tax. Others will create or continue innovative programs like a school bus that will be retrofitted as a mobile library to take to schools in underserved areas. Patterson personally reads and approves each grant application.

Why Patterson cares about bookstores
While many authors are jumping on the bandwagon with e-books and independent publishing, Patterson isn’t giving up on brick-and-mortar bookstores and libraries and the publishers who supply them. “The future of books in America is at risk,” he said. “Bookstore traffic is down. Kids aren’t reading as many books. I want to really shine a light and draw attention to the fact that this is a tricky time. The government will protect the automobile industry and the banking industry but not books.”

Technology’s stake in the future of books
While many pit technology against books, there must be a place where the two can support one another. Call me an optimist; I believe that there is always a win-win if you’re willing to work for it. Here are three ways that technology can support traditional book sales and independent bookstores:

1.) Extra content
One of my favorite parts of any DVD is the deleted scenes, alternate endings and interviews with the creators of the film. Books could follow this model. I want to know what ended up on the cutting room floor during the book editing process. I want to know how the author constructed the story and what inspired it. What different twists and did he or she contemplate during the writing process? While this information leaks out in drips and drabs during interviews, why not package it up in a compelling way through technology to be shared with fans? This content could be featured by bookstores with events that facilitate these discussions. To drive foot traffic, make this content only available for download at specific bookstores. Better yet, bookstores could have a hand in creating this content for authors as a new stream of revenue and get readers and fans involved in the process.

2.) Take us with you
Authors trek around the country on book tours. If we’re lucky they come to our city on a day that hopefully works into our busy schedules. Authors need to take their fans with them on the road. Use social media and short form video. Tell us how the trip is going, who you’re meeting and what you’re learning on the road. Let us be there and support you, in spirit and through our online presence. Bookstores could take advantage of this new marketing channel to promote their events prior to the event taking place and give their events a life after they’re done through video on their websites and screened in their stores.

3.) Give us a multi-sensory experience
I want to be immersed in a book: mind, body and spirit. Use all my senses and my imagination. What does a scene look like, feel like, sound like? How does it smell? Are there tastes and flavors to the story? Technology has the ability to literally transport us to a new world. It can quite literally bring a story to life, which is why books have been the basis for so many films, television shows and theater productions. Now we can do this in a smaller way by using mobile properties that link to the story of a book in ways that accentuate the story that paper books may not be able to do on paper alone. Again, this becomes another marketing outlet for bookstores and perhaps a content play for them as well if they can help authors create these mobile properties.

Bookstores and libraries are serving fewer people than in years past. Many blame technology. I blame a lack of integration of technology into bookstores. We can’t fight the future though we can find a way to make a new and evolving world work in our favor. Bookstores and libraries can’t continue to do what they’ve always done and be successful. We must adapt, change and grow. Darwin showed us that this is the key to survival of every other entity throughout time. It’s true for books, bookstores and publishing, too.

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