Thursday, June 30, 2011

Saving Bookstores

Larry Wilson with the Pasadena Star-News has a couple of ideas on saving the brick-and-mortar stores. E-books are really hot right now. So hot, some are predicting the demise of the print books and, thus, bookstores.

Here’s one suggestion:
Long troubled by Amazon - which, by the way, should be forced to man up and pay sales tax just like the bricks and mortars sooner rather than later - the few cool bookstores left are now being battered by ebooks.
One advantage physical bookstores have over virtual bookstores is this:
But there's one thing the independents can offer that cyberspace never will - author events. Book signings. Talks. Chances to sit in the same room with, or maybe even shoot the breeze with, your favorite writers.
Wilson suggests that bookstores need to start charging for author events. One store in California, Kepler’s, already charges.
Attendees at many readings are charged a $10 gift card, which admits two. (If they buy the author's book, it's free.)
As one person said: “"We're a business," the marketing manager of the Harvard Book Store told The New York Times. "We're not just an Amazon showroom."”

What do you think? Would you pay to hear an author speak? Would you only pay if it were a best-selling author? How about a new, local author?

P.S. Come back Saturday for another Mermaid Tale. I was asked when I planned to do another and I realized it’s been a year since I told a Tale.


  1. I'd pay to see an author I'd followed online. No matter what we do online, how much marketing we do, it has to be about people. I like people :) I do think that bookstores will eventually become nostalgic niche markets to meet cool people. Bush poetry, bush fiction events: an open fire, local food, wine and beer, cabaret style tables set outdoors, and an author reading from a kindle. Admission and food $30, a book $60, the experience, priceless. It will take a few years, but eventually books will be too expensive to print. I'm not sure why everyone's fighting it. Look how quickly mobile phones have evolved.

  2. I'm not crazy about a fee, because only the big names will draw a paying crowd, leaving the rest of us without options. Small bookstores can remain viable by offering a variety of products. Most of the ones remaining here in NC offer coffee and gifts in addition to books, and they're doing well.

  3. I don't mind paying to hear a good writer - why should I? I pay when a musician I like comes through and then I buy their cd too. Book stores are more than places to buy books - they are cultural meeting places and the more they take that on the better off they'll be.
    And as to the mermaid tale - hurrah!!!

  4. Would the author get a portion of that money though?

  5. I think bookstores may have to find new ways of getting revenue...but I'm ambivalent about this plan.

  6. I feel these kinds of paid events will most benefit big-name authors (in sales) and the bookstores (in money). Elizabeth, I could see you doing a bookstore event - maybe an outdoor cooking demonstration for your Memphis BBQ series, along with a talk and book sale. Although I see these kind of "events" more on the morning TV national news. Both big names, up and coming names and others would have to make the appearance an event.

  7. I agree with Diane's comment. People would pay for a big-name author but I fear that new writers would suffer from this. I am not sure what the answer is to save our B and M bookstores, but I hope we do. There are fewer things so satisfying and relaxing as an hour spent browsing the aisles of a bookstore.

  8. I'm afraid that only bestselling authors would draw a paid crowd, but there are other things bookstores can do to attract customers. The ones that survived in this area opened small coffee bars with seating areas for people to meet and visit or sample books. Others diversify by selling greeting cards, gifts, small toys, etc.

    Murder on the Interstate
    (now also on Kindle)

  9. I have some doubts this would work in smaller markets.
    $10 plus a book (and probably parking, etc.)-- that can be pretty expensive for some little or unknown writer.
    Times are tough for writers and consumers.
    Would the author get a pittance as they do from publishers or even nothing at all?
    It's not the same as a three hour concert.
    Just saying...

  10. I don't think people would pay to see an unknown author. What would they actually be paying for? A reading, a signing, a talk? An author can't deliver anything in the way that musicians can.

    I think author events should be free for all. Such events 'should' boost trade for both author and store.

    Times are tough...

  11. How about charging the author for an event? One author I know tried setting up a signing in a bookstore and they said, "Sure, for $200." Ripoff! He said no. I doubt that a store could get by with charging patrons either. They make their money when the people come into the store and purchase books. It's hard enough to get people to go to signings or events, if they had to pay, it would be even tougher for the unknown author. The well-known ones however will often do events and get paid for them. Lucky! My sister pays $200 a year to go to an author series at her city library. About 6 times a year, the library hosts a well-known author to come and speak. I feel so bad that bookstores are closing but really, charging either authors or patrons is a bad idea. It simply shuts the debut author out of the picture.

  12. We had a local indie store here that had a wine bar. Alas, it also closed.

    My guess would be the author gets no cut of the proceeds, and if they don't draw a big crowd, maybe not even a second invitation.

    There are some authors who go out of the way to make an appearance a big event. I remember one who had male dancers - it had something to do with her book. I didn't go to the event, but heard about it and it made the news.

  13. I would definitely pay to hear Dostoyevsky speak. Not sure about others.

    To be serious: I support new ideas bookstores come up with to survive in the tough competition electronic stores and media. Bookstores (and heavy-metal CD stores) are the only stores I enjoy.

    Looking forward to another mermaid story >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  14. I'm a fan of the good ol fashioned Bookstore.. touch, scan, ogle the covers... buy it, hold it, refer to it anytime, mark it, in a very physical sense and taking my time, that's how I enjoy books.
    It 's not about the content only.

    As much as we can do our part for green Mother Earth, there are some pleasures that digital cannot afford.

    It is painful to watch the stores struggle, I hope they survive in the best way they can for a long time to come. Many have closed a and downsized. I'm sure there are many out there like me, who have a preference for the hardcopy.

    and guess what ..........
    Batteries not needed.

    H :)

  15. That's a really tough question, paying to hear an author speak. I can understand if it's a well known author. Otherwise, I don't know about that, especially in this economy, and not knowing if the author would get any of that money. I bet all they get is the royalties.

    I don't think books will go out, but bookstores will become more and more of a novelty. Very strange times that we're living in with all these changes coming so fast.

  16. I doubt if I would pay for an author event. Isn't the whole idea to bring someone in to the store? The Fort Worth Star Telegram did a great series called "An evening with . . ." It introduced me to many authors I was not familiar with and I went on to buy their books and it was free.

  17. I don't think charging a fee would help, but the author and bookstore could put their heads together and come up with bold/whimsical/intriguing marketing strategies. Bookstores need to go through an evolution, and it seems like the ones resisting might suffer.

  18. Hi Helen. All this does make me wonder if our great-grandkids will have the pleasure of touching and holding a book.

    I agree with y'all. It does seem like bookstores have to come up with marketing ideas. If they don't, fewer and fewer people will go to physical stores and stores may fade away.

  19. I see a bigger problem than bookstores - which doesn't bode well for brick and mortar anything. My grandchildren take almost half their school courses online now, their textbooks are all online...they even have P.E. online! (not sure how that works!) Essentially, younger people are so comfortable with everything being online that I think it will be the norm very soon.

  20. That wouldn't surprise me, Laura. My son is on his computer almost 24/7. His work is done on a computer (he works for a game company), then at night he's on his computer. He totes his monitor to and from work. And he's older than the kids that today are growing up never having known a world without computers.

  21. I don't think a fee would work except for well known authors. I read something recently about a way for authors to do book signings for ebooks. That was interesting. I think the bookstores that do well have something else going for them, like a cafe and gift items.

  22. I love that readings are free...but would I pay if it were my only choice...well, yes...if it were the only choice. So far, it's not.

  23. I might pay if it were an author I loved and if that fee included a signed copy of the book.


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