The New York Times recently discussed a new issue that’s arisen for independent bookstore owners all over the country and their customers: paid admissions. It’s something that no one seems entirely happy about, but it is a response to a growing problem. Here’s the background:
The independents, feeling sales pressure from online retailers like Amazon, have begun selling selling tickets or requiring a book purchase for customers who attend author readings and signings. “The entire independent bookstore model is based on selling books, but that model is changing because so many book sales are going online,” says one Manhattan bookseller, echoing what we hear regularly in Atlanta. Too many people show up for events having already purchased their book online for less money, they argue.
It’s hard to blame customers who want to buy books as cheaply as they can, and online sellers lacking brick-and-mortar stores can do just that. But how is it fair to the store that brings in authors, promotes and devotes its time, energy and money to the event? The solution for a growing number of booksellers — including here in Atlanta — is charging admission for the event or requiring a book purchase.
At the Center for the Book, we do well over 100 author programs each year, and we have independent booksellers at each one. At some of those events, particularly with very popular, prolific authors, we have joined with the bookstore in asking that anyone who wants to get theirbook signed agree to purchase it at the event. That has seemed like a fair compromise to us because it doesn’t bar anyone from attending the author’s talk. That remains free to one and all. To get your books signed, however, you’ll need to buy one at the program. It’s worked pretty well so far; we’ve had very few complaints.
Those few who have complained say they shouldn’t be prohibited from getting books signed because they spent money to buy it, whether online or not, just not at a particular store. In the old business model, they would probably get a little more sympathy. As it is, we feel that having a bookseller at our events offers a significant service for our audiences, as it also represents a major investment of time and money for the bookseller.
And buying a book at the event seems to us an appropriate reponse to not just the bookseller but to the visiting author as well. Remember, in the case of the Georgia Center for the Book, a portion of your purchase at our events goes to help us grow our mission of spreading literature and literacy around the state of Georgia. Surely that’s worth a bit, isn’t it?
We welcome your views, as always. This is an issue that isn’t likely going away anytime soon.