The price of admission

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?

14 Responses to The price of admission

  1. So we’re going to ask people to pay to attend what amounts to an advertising event?

    That’s a tough one. It may work for established authors with a large and loyal following, but at first blush, it doesn’t sound promising for lesser-known authors.

    “Perceived value” might come into play. If I stumbled upon a pay-for-admission author event in a bookstore, I likely wouldn’t pay. But I would probably notice the author’s name, notice that their presence was “valuable” enough to demand a price, and take a look at their book.

    At that point, the book stands or falls on its own merits, but the purpose of the author event has been fulfilled regardless: a potential customer looked at the book.

    On the other hand, if I stumbled upon the same event, and the attendance was sparse or non-existent, the “perceived value” message would be a little different. If nobody was willing to pay to see that author, would I still look at their book?

    Hmmm, maybe not. Ouch.

    • Alaa says:

      scusate l’ot ma ho un dubbio .il WMP si atcatca al Wiimote e sappiamo che non retrocompatibile, ma quando lo mettiamo dobbiamo per forza levarlo per giocare a giochi “vecchi”, giocare a questi giochi con il WMP reca danni all’accessorio? sarebbe una seccatura se ogni volta che gioco ad un gioco vecchio lo devo levare, ma effettivamente non so cosa fare voi ne sapete qualcosa?

  2. Ciara says:

    Bad idea I think. Asking people to pay to see them promote the book that they want them to then pay for after the reading is crazy. It’s asking people to pay double really. And it will cut out any passerby readers who might see the sign and drop in. Who would do that if you were going to be charged £10 to take a peek.

    Authors are not like movie stars, they don’t sell themselves. You never have to see an author to appreciate their work so their face is not enough of a draw for people to pay for it.

  3. Kerry Gans says:

    I, too, think that this would kill book readings/signings for debut and lesser-known authors. Who’s going to pay to see someone they never heard of? I wouldn’t. I work too hard for my money.

    The point of author readings, from the store’s POV, is to draw people to the store. Then they will hopefully buy books there. And hopefully have such an enjoyable experience, they come back.

    Maybe charging for big-name author events is a good idea, but for the rest of us? Not so much.


  4. Not a fan. Either from an author, reader, or book store perspective.

    As a reader, I’ve been to dozens of events. I nearly always buy a book. Like you, bookstore events have been and are still a fun date for me and my wife and a great way to learn about new authors/books. The only way I would pay would be if it was an extravaganza type of thing where several really big name authors did readings, answered questions, etc. Basically a “show.”

    As an author, I’ve done hundreds of readings and signings. I love them! Anything that would make one less person come would really bother me–especially if the people who couldn’t come were financially disadvantaged or kids, who may not get to meet a lot of authors. At this point in my writing career, I think I would have to turn down a store that wanted to charge for my appearance.

    As a bookstore owner,(which clearly I am not) I would think that smaller authors would be harder to charge for and bigger authors are already going to make me a lot of money in book sales. Book buyers are a loyal breed and if my favorite bookstore told me I couldn’t come to a reading unless I shelled out ten bucks of whatever, I think I’d find a new bookstore. I do empathize with their plight, but book signings are one of the things e-books still can’t do. Take advantage of the book sales, not the readers.

  5. Catherine Whitney says:

    In a word, arghh! The sales advantage of readings is that they bring people into the store where they buy the book being featured, and then wander around and buy other books. Any of us who have sat at the little table up front and prayed for the chairs to fill will agree that it’s a mistake to put up further barriers. I can easily do the math in my head: the price of admission minus the books sold equals a loss in currency and customers.

  6. Donna Hole says:

    Yeah, I think if you’re a well known author already socking away the bucks on book sales, then charging a minimal amout for a loyal fan to hear you read isn’t a risk. After all, the patrons are showing up with their purchased copies for you to autograph (or purchasing them on site with a discount for attending the event).

    But that author that finally sold to a small press, 3000 miles away from their home town, who has to do most of the promotion/marketing themselves and out of their own pocket; no.

    While I hate to see big business forcing out the small bookstores; I see where places like B&N are also replacing public libraries for casual browsers. Except, its ok to drink your coffee and tap away at your blog or FB account at B&N. You can converse with other like minded individuals. You can ask questions and get personal attention from a clerk, no matter how obscure the title/author; in a library they point you to a computer or manual filing system and expect you to conduct your own search (like you didn’t try that already on your own computer at home).

    I see the pro’s and con’s; but I think unknown authors will be kept from the important in-person readings due to the cost of admission, and big name authors will draw enough fees to offset the cost of the appearance, if that.


  7. Author events should be free. If they’re going to keep this up, they should at least introduce those buy five get one free cards you get at the coffee shop. I’m cheap.

  8. Rowenna says:

    I suppose it would depend for me what the event was. A book signing or a reading? No, sorry–that’s a promotional event. I buy into those, and I’ll buy the book (and a few more) if I’m so moved. I can see bookstores stepping it up a notch with events and offering formal lectures or even workshops, for which I can see charging an admission fee.

    I admit, too, that I sympathize with the bookstores–especially their frustration with being used as a hangout for book lovers but not as a place to actually buy books. I’ve done it–kept a notebook in my purse and written down titles that interest me. And then I went–not to Amazon–but to my local library. Poor college student me couldn’t afford to buy all the books I wanted. That said–charging for events is alienating. The bonus for a real-live bookstore is real-live people, community, presence–don’t charge for the thing that sets you apart from the online steamrollers.

  9. Miriam says:

    Yeah, everyone I’ve talked to about this seems pretty passionately against charging for author events. I’m reading Patti Smith’s wonderful JUST KIDS now and her passion for books and book stores reminds me that loitering in book stores (including dropping in on an author reading as it’s going on)should be an inalienable right.

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  11. Sharla Rae says:

    I think paying to get in will drive readers away. People are being dinged at every twist in this ecomony. They’ll buy the book elsewhere and save the fee for a cup of good joe to drink while they enjoy the book.

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