If I had $300,000 lying around, I can assure you that spending it on James Patterson’s latest gimmick — a self-destructing release of his newest crime novel, Private Vegas — isn’t what I’d do with the money.* But Patterson and Mother New York, the advertising agency behind this promotion, are fairly certain they’ll find a buyer. That person will pay $294,038 to receive:
- A trip to an undisclosed location;
- Two nights in a luxury hotel;
- 14-karat gold-plated binoculars;
- Five-course dinner with Patterson; and a
- Copy of Private Vegas that the purchaser only has 24 hours to read before it will self-destruct (with the help of a bomb squad)
According to Mother New York’s Susan Holden (via The New York Times ArtsBeat):
[Patterson] said to me that he wouldn’t be surprised if one in his circle of friends might be interested … He’s a super down-to-earth guy, but he runs with a billion-dollar crowd, so for some person that’s a huge Patterson fan, this could be chump change, and could be funny.
There is something very unseemly about describing $294,038 as “chump change,” isn’t there? It’s far more money than the vast majority of American households make in a year.
It’s even more distasteful in our current financial climate: many people in this wealthy crowd are becoming more wealthy by the minute and are actually less generous in their charitable giving than people who make only a fraction of what they do.
As a report found last fall, the wealthiest Americans, those making above $200,000 per year, give a smaller percentage of their income to charitable causes than those who earn under $100,000. At the same time, “Even though wealthier Americans donated a smaller share of their income, the total amount they gave increased by $4.6-billion, to hit $77.5-billion in 2012, using inflation-adjusted dollars.” In other words, they’re giving more, but they’re making even more than that.
Some might look at those numbers and think it’s okay for the wealthiest in our society to give a smaller percentage of their worth if the number of dollars increases. Anyone who thinks that has no idea of how great the need for charitable giving is. Those would be people who don’t understand what poverty really looks like, how meager our social welfare net is, or how many charitable nonprofits struggle to keep the lights on during lean economic times.
To his credit, Patterson has made headlines over the last year for his donation of $1 Million to independent bookstores. That may be “chump change” to him, considering his enormous net worth, but at least it’s something (and I don’t know anything about other charitable contributions he might make).**
Let’s hope that others in the multi-million and billion-dollar crowds are at least equally generous. Let’s hope that whoever drops nearly $300,000 on Patterson’s “explosive” book experience will at least double that amount in a charitable contribution of their choice. What’s “chump change” to someone worth a billion dollars could be a lifeline for thousands of people.
*As for me, there are an endless number of causes I’d want to support with that kind of money, starting with establishing a fellowship that gives graduating law students an opportunity to become public interest attorneys at the nonprofit where I now work. There is a great need for low-income legal services and resources.
**Patterson and his ad team haven’t forgotten about readers who don’t run in a billion-dollar crowd. 1,000 people will be able to read the book for free at selfdestructingbook.com. But they must complete this “mission” within 24 hours, at which point the e-book will “self-destruct” (disappear).