Paying for Events

Josie Leavitt - June 23, 2011

There has been a lot of discussion this week about the practice of asking customers to pay for events, starting with an article in the New York Times on Tuesday. It’s a very interesting question and reflects the changing nature of author events. Ultimately, events exist for several reasons: to support the author’s newest book, and his/her backlist, to sell books, and to allow fans to meet the author. There needs to be a balance among these variables at all times, and we need to understand that with different sales avenues, books may not be purchased at the store hosting the event. Bookstores need to make money on events, as they cost money to put on. We provide wine and cheese at all adult events and that’s not always reimbursed by the publishers.
Booksellers have been talking about how to give bookstore events more value, and thereby encouraging customers to buy event books at the store. One way of adding value to the events was charging for them. Amazon, for all its low prices, will never host events, so it’s very disheartening to see people come to events with books purchased there. People sometimes think “free” means “less important.” Therefore, charging for something, even a nominal fee, can imbue an event with more significance than a free one. Making someone buy a ticket for an event also ensures that ticket purchasers will be far more likely to come to the event. And more information the bookstore has about the number of tickets sold can really help them make informed event orders and return fewer books after the event.
We don’t charge for events, adult or children’s. I feel like it’s a slippery slope to start charging, but I’m torn.  On the one hand, I’d love it if every attendee bought a book, but I feel like I can’t mandate that, unless it’s a huge author and we’ve rented a space to accommodate the crowd. On the other hand, I do think a $3 ticket seems reasonable, especially if the cost of the ticket can used for the book purchase. This feels like a small enough amount that most people can probably afford it, and not feel beholden to buy a hardcover.
I’ve heard some stores deal with the “bought the book somewhere else” conundrum buy assigning tickets for the signing line based on where folks bought the book. Buy the book at the store, you’re at the front of the signing line, bought it from Amazon or somewhere else, you’re at the back of the line. This feels punitive, but it does help reinforce that supporting your local store will be appreciated by the store, and you will be rewarded for it.
With children’s events there is always the question of how many books from home can someone bring into the event to be signed. Often, the author will have guidelines about how many books they’ll sign from home. Other times, it’s up to the store to set a policy. This is a touchy area. I don’t expect kids to understand the complexities of this, but parents should be mindful of the purpose of an event, and get the new book signed first and maybe one or two brought from home, and then get back in line if they want all the books from home signed. This is respectful to everyone and can keep everyone happy.
What are your thoughts on charging for events? Do you mind paying for events?
PS: We had an event last night with fifty people in attendance. Fully half of those folks do not regularly shop at the store. We sold about twenty eight books. I can say with confidence that if I had required a book purchase to attend the event, there’s no way we would have had so many people in the audience. The book in question was Melissa Coleman’s wonderful memoir, This Life is in Your Hands a book that speaks of farming and tragedy in a real way. Had I required some of the farmers who attended to buy the book, I might have had far fewer folks attending the event and as such the event would have lost a lot of its charm and real emotion. (I’ll blog more about this great event for Friday) I think the thing to remember is a great event is remembered by all who attend, and while they might not buy a book that night, they might well remember how that event made them feel the next time they need to buy a gift.

18 thoughts on “Paying for Events

  1. Donna Marie Merritt

    I understand the point of charging, but as an author, I couldn’t be part of that unless it was an event raising money for charity. It wouldn’t feel right to know someone was paying to hear me read or sign a book. On the other hand, I think it’s entirely reasonable to only sign books bought at the event, none from Amazon, none from home. I don’t think it’s asking too much that if you want a signed book, you support the indie who brought the author to your community.

    1. Ellen Mager

      Donna, As a bookseller of 28 years, I totally agree with your take it as it being “entirely reasonable to only sign books bought at the event” or for me, I add or bought at the store (as seen in your bookclub). I don’t let any books be brought in during the event, but the customer can bring in that book, we bag it and give it to them that night usually with the new one they are buying. There are always exceptions. If someone has a book signed by the author and the illustrator is at the store, I ask them to wait until the end and then I let them get it signed. This goes for events as well. You bought a book to come to our Harry Potter parties. It’s only fair you are putting out the expense….

  2. Nan Soresnen

    I like what Harvard Book Store does for offsite author events. Charges $5 which is then good for credit at the store which I think is good for 2 weeks. If you really are supporting your independent bookstore you’ll be spending that $5 anyway.

  3. Andrea Vuleta

    We have charged for a few off site events, usually requiring a book purchase plus $1- $3. We do offer it on the backlist as well as the new title, so there is usually a range of prices/choice available.
    In those cases, we have donated the “ticket fee” to a group of the author’s choosing. And if there is a hesitation in buying the book, say they already have it or it is a family that would not need multiple books we have made discrete exceptions, or we have a handy bin to donate that signed book to a local school library. We’ll even deliver it to the school of their choice.
    I really do feel that charging is okay, and it does enhance the “perceived” value of the event.

  4. Ally Mead

    I have to say that this strikes me as adding fuel to Amazon’s fire, perhaps inadvertently so. I can’t see how charging for events will encourage people to come into stores for readings or other events. I see your wisdom, that free sometimes means less important, but if the biggest issue indie booksellers have with Amazon is that Amazon doesn’t offer the personal touch they’re able to, why not exploit this by offering more and varied events than Amazon ever could? Booksellers cut themselves off at the knees by curtailing their own business strengths.

  5. Donna Paz Kaufman

    Josie, let’s remember that there are all kinds of non-author events in which customers are happy to pay a fee . This can become a revenue source for booksellers with a little help from members of the community who are experts in particular fields. For instance, a series of classes (writing your family history for grandchildren) with a local geneology specialist is an example of value a bookstore can provide. Author or no, let’s not underestimate the value of booksellers in bringing cultural experiences to the community. We pay for that at performances and exhibits, why not programs at bookstores?

  6. D

    It is a conundrum. I like the idea that the cost of a ticket goes against the purchase of a book. It does bring home the fact that the event is to sell the book, but it also gives something to the customer. Often times these events are not book-buying events for the consumer. It is an opportunity to meet a writer they admire, entertainment, a night out, etc. A bookstore’s financials are only a matter of concern for the bookstore. What the bookstore has to offer is a matter of concern for the customer. Make it worth their while, and they’ll want to buy the book. I do think, however, it is just downright rude and completely without thought to bring books bought elsewhere to a store’s event. Books from home are okay in my mind, but yeah, limit it… there’s a line. I used to say only two and folks would get mad, but there’s no argument to there’s a line and the author has limited time. In the end though, a free event is best. Just like you said, some folks will not attend if there’s a charge. Why alienate anyone?

  7. Heather Lyon

    Our events have always been free, but I think next time we have an off-site event we’re going to charge something, maybe $3-5, to offset our cost of renting the place. We usually rent the space from a non-profit gallery or theather, so the money goes to a non-profit. Authors, how do you feel about that?

    1. Ally Mead

      Agreed. Generally speaking, I feel comfortable charging if I’m offering a workshop or other service, but not for a straight reading from the book. If space rental is involved, sure, a fee is justified.

  8. Leslie

    Last year was the first time we went with ticketed events for large crowds. We made it ticketed, and you got a ticket when you purchased the book. Whenever someone asked if their husband/wife/child/friend etc who was coming with them had to buy a book, we said no…and gave out the needed number of tickets for that group. The authors have always been told we were doing it this way and were fine. We found it helped for many reasons. We were able to anticipate the number of chairs we needed, we sold far more books for these authors than we had on previous visits. People often bought other books when they came to the store to get a ticket. New customers came to store to get tickets and were pleased with how liberally we gave extra tickets. We also give front row(s) seating to people who are members of our REGULARS (our frequent buyer club) and so they received a different color ticket. We could also then make sure we held the right number of seats for them. We did not keep people from bringing additional books from other sources, and only restricted books from home if the author requested. Our feeling is that most of the authors that draw large crowds (and these are the only events we ticket) expect us to sell a lot of books and while they are always happy to meet their readers they don’t really come just to talk and say hi. They always ask “Did you sell a lot of books?” and when, in the past, we have said we didn’t, as people bought the book elsewhere, they were sorry. So far this has worked for us.

  9. gabrielle

    I would be more than happy to pay $5 if it were added to a reusable gift card. The fee would be waved if I were to buy either the author’s book or another book in the store that night.

  10. Angela Breidenbach

    As an author and a business owner, I think it’s important to charge for events. The charge needs to be appropriate to the value. Readings, short talks would be well set at $5. But workshops and classes, longer talks on the expertise either researched for the book or. Of the authors education should not only be higher, say$25 and up, but well advertised. Books and other products connected to the author should all be for sale on a special back table. The author should receive a stipend for those events because the majority of authors pay all their expenses now days, and no, publishers do not offset most authors costs. The royalties on books come months later causing a lot of financial hardship on most authors. So I believe it’s crucial to be more creative with the events offered and begin to charge for those events.

  11. catie james

    Personally I feel it’s a matter of etiquette on behalf of the customer as much as the store/sellers – bringing pre-bought/owned books to author event(s)/book signing(s) is low class. I suppose I could understand bringing something the author’s backlist (assuming they have one) provided they purchased the most recent title from the vendors providing the opportunity, but basic good manners should lead people to limit themselves to no more than two titles. Unfortunately, most people lack common sense and decent manners which comes at a high cost to invaluable independents like the Flying Pig. I don’t see the harm in charging a small entrance fee in return for a guaranteed “seat at the table.” After all, you and your staff *are* providing a service that otherwise wouldn’t be available.

    1. Maya

      I think there can be exceptions to this rule. We recently hosted Francesca Lia Block at the library, and the pre-owned copies people brought in, dogeared and battered, were testaments to how valuable her stories had been to people for decades. People also purchased books, but I don’t think it’s rude to bring in a first edition and tell the author how the book changed your life.
      David Sedaris has a charming custom: he arrives early at the bookstore and picks out copies of his favorite books. After he’s finished his reading, he book talks these titles to the audience and has a raffle among the audience members for the opportunity to purchase the books and bring them home! And it works!

  12. catie james

    PS: As you said, it’s a much trickier situation when children are in the mix, but in that case it’s up to their parents to set the example. If adults can’t recognize the value independent book stores & libraries provide the community, neither will their children.


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