Charging to attend a book event

I get Publishers Lunch every morning – and so should every person who’s involved in this crazy thing we call publishing. In my morning meal, I saw that a Denver indie bookstore is going to start charging people to attend a book event – anywhere between $5-$10. That money will be used as coupon toward buying the author’s book. I found the article on GalleyCat, so you can read the article for yourself.

Store owner, David Bolduc, explains:

“Publishers place certain expectations on us when we host events, and so in order to continually attract authors, we must fulfill these expectations. Oftentimes, in return for sending an author to a bookstore, publishers expect us to attract a certain number of people and sell a certain number of books.”

How do you feel about this? I have to admit that I was shocked at this decision. From a purely publisher mindset, I am concerned this will chase event goers away. For one thing, I don’t agree with this logic. Maybe some publishers have those expectations, but I always have the attitude that the author needs to have enough of a platform, or an enticing book, to pull in event goers.

I know that when I was doing the big promo push for Tackle Box, I told the bookstores of all the writer’s groups I’d contacted and my belief that the event would be well attended. And they always were. But I did my homework because I didn’t want to sit on my arse with my finger up my nose. In other words, those stores had a compelling reason to host my book event, and that was to bring in shoppers who will buy my book and maybe a few more as well. I became a revenue stream for them.

And that’s the idea behind hosting book events. It’s give and take, and there has to be something in it for the one hosting the event. Otherwise, what’s the point? But then came along the vanity and POD authors, and bookstores saw a huge downturn in the quality of books that waltzed into those book events. The authors had zero experience, and their “publishers” were deliciously AWOL in terms of publicizing the event. The results were that few attend the events, and the store lost money. Or didn’t gain a thing.

So booksellers have become careful about whom they agree to host. Few will host vanity or POD books. Others demand a list of people who agree to attend. Others still, charge the author – or the publisher – to host the event. But to date, no one has ever charged the attendees.

Do you see this as an effective way to attract customers to come into your store? If anything, I see this as bug repellant. I have attended a number of my friends’ book events, and if I knew I was going to be charged $5 or $10 just to sit my rusty dusty in one of their chairs, I might think twice about it. True, I basically get paid back when I buy the author’s book, but what if I already bought the book? Or I bought the e-book?

I understand the owner’s plight – to get people to shop locally and support local bookstores – but I wonder if he’s shooting himself in the foot. You can’t mandate where people shop – especially in this economy. If a bookstore is going to accept the burden of hosting an event, then they do the natural things that will attract attention. They print up posters and hang them around the store. Some take out small ads in their local newspaper. They do it to create excitement and gain customers.

But how many customers are you going to attract if they know they’re going to be dinged just for attending an event?

I realize there are no easy answers. Stores are closing right and left – which makes me infinitely sad. Many stores have stopped hosting author events altogether – another sad plight. But what I don’t think is right is fleecing the golden goose to simply attend a book event.

I don’t know…am I wrong? Would you pay to attend a book event for an unknown author? Do you see this as a profit center for the bookstore and not much upside for the customer?

15 Responses to Charging to attend a book event

  1. Digital Dame says:

    I think it depends on who the author is. A big name with a devoted following is more likely to bring in people willing to pay to see them and get their new book. But an unknown author that you may or may not like…I don’t think so. Powells Books here in Portland puts on ticketed author events for really big names at a local theater (Charlaine Harris is next up at the Bagdad, I think) but generally, they have the authors in store. I’ve been to several author reading/signing events there, and the crowd is more dependent on the author being a known commodity.

  2. Since the the well-known authors usually bring in a crowd, I wonder how they’d feel about their readers being charged to attend their event?

    And what about those who are less known? Will they be concerned that readers who may have attended will now change their minds and stay away?

    Some attend author events because they don’t know anything about the author but are interested because they write in the reader’s genre. How does that benefit anyone?

  3. NinjaFingers says:

    I would, if a bookstore said they would charge my attendees for attending my signing, go elsewhere (until everyone does it).

  4. Alex says:

    I guess I’m not going to a book event in their bookstore, then…

  5. Nicola Morgan says:

    Lynn, in the UK this is not unusual. In fact this evening I should* be at one, and would willingly have paid (£5, to be deducted from the book if you buy it) because it is a wellknown author and good speaker. You would never do this for a mere signing, though – this is for an event where the author will do a proper talk. You’d also not do it for a beginner author either. Each time it would be a decision based on circumstances. One good reason to charge a small amount (usually less than £5 – more like £3) is that if people have paid they are likely to come. If people get a free ticket they often don’t bother turning up. Another important aspect is whether the event is in aclosed space or part of the shop. I’m doing an event in a large book store soon, and they won’t charge for tickets because it’s in an open part of the shop; but another event I’m doing in a shop does have a ticket price, because it’s in a separate room and I’m speaking for an hour.

    I guess it’s whatever people are used to.

    *Why am I not at it? Conflict of events.

  6. Becky Mushko says:

    I wouldn’t pay to attend an author event in a bookstore. Even with a discount coupon, what if, after hearing the author, I decided I didn’t want the book?

    The bookseller should be trying to sell books. The author should be promoting his/her book. Charging a fee to potential customers won’t help either accomplish their missions.

  7. This is an interesting perspective, Nicola. I can almost see a point being made for tickets to an actual event where the author speaks for an hour, but the standard practice here in the US is that it’s all free. In fact, lots of stores have policies about how and for what they can charge for events.

    Most of our stores don’t have separate facilities for events. Even Vroman’s, one of our largest indies, has a room that’s still accessible to the store, so anyone who goes upstairs to look for a book can see the event.

    But, you’re right, it’s all in what you’re used to. And I’m not a fan just yet.

  8. AstonWest says:

    I wouldn’t pay to attend an author’s event, just as I won’t pay to hold one in a store (as one here has begun requiring…).

    If a store is going to try and rob an author and/or their customers in such a fashion, I say let them all fail…something better will come along to fill the void.

  9. kimkircher says:

    I hemmed and hawed a bit myself when reading this news in Publishers Lunch this morning. My gut reaction was, who would pay to attend a reading? My guess is it will drive away the very attendees writers hope to draw in.

  10. Cat says:

    What Nicola describes is also almost standard practice here in Adelaide (South Australia) Lynn. Our local indie always charges for these events.

  11. Amazing! The idea of charging traffic to visit your store is the highest form of chutzpah I’ve heard of. It sounds like a desperate attempt to cover costs in a time of diminishing sales. I’ve been guilty of making stupid business decisions, but fortunately, none involved rubbing prospective customers noses in it.

    Of course, the bookseller may not have faith that there will be enough margin to cover his added costs of the day, but that is just a cost of doing business. No risk, no reward.

  12. Louise Curtis says:

    Wow. There’s no way, as a reader, I’d pay to go to a book launch. The whole point of a book launch is to bribe people into thinking about buying the book. . . and usually it’s hard enough to get them to attend even WITH free food.

    Louise Curtis

  13. Daniele says:

    I’ve got a slightly different perspective on this. I’m graduating from a small American university in the midwest very soon. The University hosts two writers every semester, pays a strong portion of their expenses, puts them up for the night, if necessary, and one of the student clubs has their books for sale at the book reading. Attendance for these events is an odd thing. When students are required to go (all creative writing courses require at least one event attendance, many contemporary literature courses do, too) or if they are offered sufficient extra credit, the event is well attended. When it’s not, there aren’t many people who show up. There are a certain segment of literature fans from the community that come to most every occasion, but not many. If there were a fee for attendace, that would reduce attendance. Our local bookstore found that out when they charged a small fee for the latest Harry Potter book release “party.” They went to the chain store, instead. People might pay to attend the Huge Name Writer book events, if JK Rowling or Stephanie Meyer showed up, I could see it. Anyone other than the super celebrity authors? Yeah, I don’t see it happening. At all.

  14. Daniele, When an author is invited by a venue, be it a university or conference, they expect to have their transportation and lodging paid for. This isn’t unusual. Likewise, the audience usually pays an entrance fee. Not at all unusual.

    In the case of a university, there isn’t normally an attendance fee and the department absorbs the costs.

    But when you wander into bookstore territory, I still think paying to attend an author event is risky.

  15. Peter McGrath says:

    I hate the phrase ‘add value’, because hearing a good author talk about their book should be enough in itself. It should also be an occasion: so a few £ for a discount on the product, a sandwich and a glass of vino should be no big ask. Our high street bookshops can’t compete on price any more, so it needs to be on knowledge, service and the things Amazon can’t do. Like face to face contact with authors, events, wine and sandwiches.

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