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.