What Would You Pay $10 to See A Writer Do?

Slate's Culture Blog
June 22 2011 7:31 PM

What Would You Pay $10 to See A Writer Do?

The New York Times has a piece today about how independentbookstores have begun charging for in-store events a formerly "unthinkable"practice, but one that's become necessary as more and more readers opt to buythe book online, rather than at the store on the night of the program.

In theory, I have no problem paying $10 or $15 to support abookstore that's gone to the trouble of organizing an event for myentertainment. (In-store author readings run on razor-thin margins, as ColleenLindsay, a former event manager at a big indie bookstore, laid out in ablog post in 2008 .) The only problem is, author readings usually aren'tvery entertaining.

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I've attended readings because I've had an hour to kill andit was raining outside. I've gone because I needed a free first-date activity,or because I happen to know the writer. And I've gone, very occasionally, tocatch sight of a celebrity in a respectable, non-gawking fashion. (SalmanRushdie wore pink socks the first time I saw him. Joan Didion looked like atiny bird.) But those criteria only seem to apply to about two percent of thereadings that happen daily in New York City.

In almost any other case, if there's a book that's piqued myinterest, I'd prefer to learn more about it by reading reviews, checking out aKindle sample, or looking on YouTube for thetrailer or for BookTV clips than byschlepping to a fluorescent-lit bookstore to sit on a folding chair and listento someone mumble passages from their book before answeringless-than-illuminating questions from the audience.

One person noted onTwitter today that people will regularly pay $8 to $10, plus the cost ofdrinks, to see bands they don't know. But musicians are performers; writers,not always. So how can bookstores convince customers to make the same kind ofinvestment on authors they're not already fans of? What would you pay$10 to see a writer do?

Slate staffers have a few ideas. Serve drinksand dim the lights. Offer a discounted copy of the book as part of theadmission price. Get readers to choose the passages that the writer willdiscuss. Give us your best ideas for souping up the author reading, and if weget enough good suggestions, we'll round up the most promising in a futurepost.

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