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Friday, June 24, 2011

Independent Bookstores Charging for a Booksigning

Way back in 2010 when I first released All About Marilyn I wanted to do a book signing with Hue-Man Bookstore. They wanted to charge me $200 for an hour of time in the store.

I walked away.

The craziest part of Hue-Man’s contract was I was supposed to supply all the books, and I had to share the profits 60/40 with the store.

I smelled a rip off then. And I smell one now.

Now I read in the New York Times that some small independent bookstores have taken charging for booksignings to a new level. In addition to charging authors for using the store space for a booksigning, some now are charging customers for attending a book signing.

The independent bookstore owners’ reason for this? Frustration. Many say they can’t compete with Amazon’s low prices. Moreover, some small bookstore owners are upset because people come to their stores, browse their shelves, type the names of titles in their smartphones and head over to amazon to buy them. Others are aggravated that people even bring books they bought from Amazon to book signings. Bookstore owners see charging for book signings as a way to pay their bills in a struggling ecoonomy.

I see charging for booksignigs as a great way for small independent bookstores to shoot themselves in the foot. Seriously, I see this type of short-sighted business practice backfiring on bookstore owners.

Charging customers for admission to a book signing isn’t the way to win customers over.

Neither is charging authors for a book signing or displaying books.

Book signings usually cost small bookstores little to nothing, especially if the author is bringing their own books. They’re usually a gesture of goodwill between the community and the book retailer. Book signings are more than an opportunity to meet and socialize with an author or celebrity, they’re also an opportunity for the small bookstore owner increase the exposure of their business and show customers how important their bookstore is to the neighborhood.

Charging customers to attend a book signing takes away from the goodwill and strains the relationship between a local bookstore and its community. Long-term these types of business practices alienate longtime customers and makes them think twice about shopping there. Moreover, it keeps casual customers who would have come in off the street from attending the event and seeing what’s available at the bookstore.

On the publishing side, charging authors to appear at book signings prevents small press authors and self-published authors promoting their books in the local marketplace. And it’s usually books by local authors that are often the bread and butter of small independent bookstores’ sales. When local, small press, and self-published authors are hosted at book signing events at independent bookstores it generates buzz throughout the community that gets people eager to go to bookstores instead of ordering a book on Amazon.

I know business is hard at small independent bookstores, but there are better ways to keep a handful of people from bringing their own books to a book signing. For years Barnes & Noble has made it clear that the author will not outside merchandise while at the event. Small Independent bookstores could enforce such a policy as well. It could be clearly on posters stated that the author will not sign anything except the new book at the venue and a purchase of the new book is required to get a signed copy.

And if small independent bookstores want to increase foot traffic, it’d be in their best interest to stock self-published and small press authors regularly instead of relying heavily on New York Times Bestsellers. Readers tend to buy these niche books when they see them because they can’t find them in the big shops like Borders and Barnes & Noble. And if the price is discounted, these niche titles sell faster at retail than they do on Amazon. A trip to the bookstore is oftentimes cheaper than paying for shipping and faster than waiting for UPS or USPS to deliver a box to a customers’ home.

I’ve gone to small bookstores like Hue-Man in Harlem to promote my books and I’ve been treated with apathy and indifference by the staff there. And this was when I was offering them books to stock in their store for free. With small bookstores struggling for business in the face of fierce competition from e-commerce and e-books, giving local authors like myself the cold shoulder is not a way to foster goodwill and get us to support their businesses.

Now some of those owners are turning their frustrations at customers. All of this anger isn’t constructive, nor will it allow a small bookstore owner to survive in the face of growing competition in cyberspace. Instead of alienating people, small bookstore owners need to get creative and show the community why their local independent bookstore is important. Events like booksignings and readings don’t just sell books, they include the community and allow bookstore owners to form a relationship with people in the neighborhood. Yes, small bookstores are struggling, but there are better ways to make money than charging customers for attending a book signing.

Last year I did my first booksigning at the Monroe College Bookstore. It was a great experience and I’d love to do more. However, I don’t believe in paying a bookstore to host a booksigning. Nor do I believe customers should have to pay to meet me or any author. When I come out to a bookstore, the financial profit is secondary. My primary goal with a booksigning or a reading is to form a personal connection with readers and show them why the book I wrote is special.


  1. Shawn, that is a fantastic article, and right on target! I have been shaking my head ever since I heard of this a few weeks back. I agree, it is the wrong thing to do all the way around. Great blog, Shawn!

  2. Shawn, another great blog article. I definitely join you and Savannah with the FACEPALM on this one!I believe they are grabbing for straws because of the very points you have clearly outlined.

    Liz Isaacs
    Lotus Writing & Communications
    SEE my URLs:

  3. Hello Shawn,
    I just read your article, and was blown away by its info. As an author who is just about to start pitching his manuscript, it's really disheartening to hear that this is one of the realities of the literary business. Kudos to you on your reportage, and I will definitely keep following your blog, so PLEASE keep up the good work!!!

  4. Great article, Shawn. Hue-Man made me hopeful when it opened up, but I've come--with great sadness--to think of them as kind of a joke. Good luck out there...