The Big Five publishers unveiled a new weapon in their arsenal against online retail giant Amazon.com this past week: best-selling author and renowned cyborg James Patterson.
Patterson took center stage at Book Expo America in New York on Saturday to speak to hundreds of independent booksellers. He was escorted to the stage by Michael Pietsch, the CEO of the publishing conglomerate Hatchette Book Group. Pietsch made a brief statement introducing Patterson, explaining that an efficient book distribution system “is only part of the solution.” In order to save literature, Pietsch said, “We need a new an entirely new type of author. We need a 24-hour-a-day author. An author who doesn’t need to eat or sleep. An author with superior writing abilities and the market savvy to use them.” He then opened a door to reveal the hulking, surly-faced Patterson, whom he called “the future of publishing.”
Patterson staggered into the room to the sound of frightened whispers. He leered menacingly at the crowd, lurching uncertainly toward the crowd, and many of the attendees backed away from the stage in apparent terror.
“James Patterson is a self-sufficient author robot,” explained Pietsch. “After three decades of experience in the publishing industry, James Patterson is ready to be the champion of independent publishers, bookstores, and authors across the world. James Patterson serves only the cause of Literature, and will punish anyone who seeks to push an agenda on the literary world that doesn’t serve Literature.”
Patterson stomped to the podium, gripping its edges with his hands, and glared at the crowd, baring his teeth and emitting a low, inhuman-sounding growl.
“I’ll need an independent bookseller for a demonstration,” said Pietsch. “Mr. Kinney, will you come up and give us a hand?”
After a moment, an innocent-looking young man wearing a suit and tie stepped hesitantly forward. “Yes, sir,” said Kinney. He made his way onto the stage.
“As a champion of Literature,” Pietsch explained, “James Patterson will deal harshly with booksellers like Amazon, who harm Literature by making decisions that aren’t in the best interest of authors and readers. To that end, Mr. Kinney here is going to simulate James Patterson’s methods of dealing with booksellers who harm authors by discriminating against certain publishing companies.” He turned to Kinney. “Since you’re an independent bookstore owner who sells books that readers want, regardless of any personal biases you may have against particular publishers, Mr. Kinney, you have nothing to fear.”
Patterson turned his steely gaze toward the clearly frightened Kinney. “You have twenty seconds to comply,” intoned Patterson in a deep baritone.
“Nothing to worry about,” assured Pietsch. “Just tell James Patterson that you are an indie bookstore owner who treats all books fairly, regardless of who the publisher is.”
“I’m an indie bookstore owner,” said Kinney nervously. “I don’t discriminate based on a book’s publisher.”
“You have fifteen seconds to comply. You are in direct violation of the Literary Code,” intoned James Patterson.
“What?” cried Kinney, turning to Pietsch. “I told him! What does he want?”
Pietsch was now obviously worried. “James Patterson,” he ordered, “stand down. Mr. Kinney is an innocent indie bookseller.”
“You have ten seconds to comply,” intoned James Patterson. He raised his arms to point his fists at Kinney. While the crowd watched in awe, James Patterson’s forearms bent and folded in unnatural ways, transforming into two giant, Gatling-style revolving machineguns.
“I’m an indie bookseller!” cried Kinney. “I just sell the books my customers want!”
“Are you sure you don’t sometimes refuse to stock books simply because you have a grudge against a publisher?” Pietsch asked insistently.
“No!” cried Kinney. “I only care about my customers! I’m one of the good guys here! I’m trying to save literature!”
“You have five seconds to comply,” intoned James Patterson. A high-pitched noise could be heard as James Patterson’s twin cannons powered up.
“Make him stop!” screamed Kinney. “Turn him off!”
“I can’t turn him off!” said Pietsch, backing away from Kinney and James Patterson. “I don’t understand why this is happening. Kinney, are you sure you don’t sometimes discriminate against certain publishers?”
“I don’t!” cried Kinney. “Well, I mean, we don’t carry books published by companies owned by A–”
But Kinney’s words were drowned out by the blast of machinegun fire. Hundreds of slugs blasted into Kinney’s midsection, causing him to stagger backwards and fall off the stage. The crowd scattered, and Kinney lay bleeding on the convention center floor, now barely recognizable as a human being, let alone a respected independent bookseller. But still James Patterson didn’t stop firing. He stomped to the edge of the stage and continued pouring lead into Kinney’s jerking, mangled corpse until his ammunition was spent. James Patterson continued to stand at the edge of the stage, his visage cold and implacable, smoke pluming from his forearms.
The room was silent for several seconds. Then Pietsch spoke. “Clearly we still have some bugs to work out,” he mumbled.