There was a little used book store around the corner from my apartment complex, when I was growing up in Miami, that was my second home. Nerdy, latch-key kid that I was, I spent hours browsing the shelves, trying to get the owner to throw in an extra dog-eared paperback in exchange for the stack of Spanish language comic books I was trading, and generally getting high on the smell of old paper and ink. I still have treasured editions scattered throughout my many bookcases whose provenance was that little shop.
Then, when I first got to New York, I was blown away by places like Shakespeare & Co., Brentano’s, Coliseum Books, Papyrus and that promised land for bibliophiles, The Strand. A few years later many of my favorite haunts had gone out of business or been taken over by soulless corporate giants (you know who you are) but I never lost my love of browsing aimlessly in book stores. These days, I still occasionally wander over to the Barnes & Noble on Union Square and spend my lunch hour in the fiction stacks on the fourth floor.
Of course, book stores have also traditionally been a place for authors to do their dog and pony show in support of their work. Book tours are going the way of the Amazon forests but certain authors are still a huge draw (just try to get anywhere near the third floor at the aforementioned Barnes & Noble when David Sedaris is doing a reading). Some of these events can make you fall in love with a book or its author, sometimes both. They’re also the makings of a cheap date for grown-ups and an alternative to a $30 movie outing for young kids. Except, it seems, no more.
Check out this Gawker piece about the new trend of book stores charging admission to author events. I actually understand and support independents in their efforts to get people in the door. These are trying times for book sellers and if they are to keep their doors open in the face of the online juggernauts (you know who you are, cough, Amazon) they are going to have to figure out a way to make money. But it does make me sad. How many times did I walk out of a book store with a title I had no intention of buying when I went in after stumbling upon an author reading from his/her book? I wonder if the days of the accidental book buyer are numbered as a result of these new pay-for-play tactics.
What do you all think about this new development?