Please don’t complain about giving money to indie bookstores

Sorry to drop some Jeff Foxworthyesque logic on you, but if you are a person who buys and reads books on a regular basis, and you make it a point to buy your books at your local indie store, then you are part of a literary community.  The same goes if you attend any number of literary events put on by the proprietors of those establishments: you frequent their events, you are a part of their community.

I should also give you a hearty congratulations, because as a member of your newfound community, you might also have the title of “intellectual” bestowed upon you by some folks.  I know you might be a bit apprehensive of being thought of as one of those, but hey, you’ve earned it, and you should wear it with pride.

If I were to give you a welcome wagon gift basket for your new status as a community member, it would have a card that had something like this written on it: “Welcome!  As a person of the literary community, you should care to foster it and help it grow.  And all of that starts with your local indie bookstore.”

I say all this in reference to the New York Times article, “Come Meet the Author, but Open Your Wallet,” because I get the feeling that a good amount of folks are thinking to themselves: “Why the fuck should I pay to listen to somebody read from their book?”

The answer is that (hopefully) you aren’t paying to hear them read.  (Hopefully) you are paying to help keep your local indie bookstore afloat.  If you are part of any community organization, you have to pay some dues; so maybe don’t complain about paying them when you sit down to listen to people read.  We admit that there are variables to this formula such as how will the authors be compensated, what will you get in return other than just people reading from a book you plan on reading for yourself, etc.

We know readings aren’t exactly the most entertaining events.  We understand this.  Vol. 1 Brooklyn puts on over fifty literary events a year, and we are constantly being told by people, “I really don’t like going to readings” upon inviting them in person or via e-mail.  We put these events on because we enjoy it.  The only money we’ve ever asked for is to either cover costs, or to give it to organizations like 826NYC or Books Through Bars.  But unlike places like WORD and McNally Jackson, we are not a business.  These events are not part of some larger picture deal that helps us budget how we’re going to buy food for our family.  Our hopes in putting these events together are that people become more interested in literature, books, and the individual authors.  Maybe someday somebody will one day tell us “Hey Vol. 1 Brooklyn, we’d like to pay you a lot of money to put together readings,” but seriously, we highly doubt that (we aren’t opposed to it if anybody with bags of money is reading this).  When we work with WORD on an event, and we see lots of books being sold after that event is finished, that’s a great feeling.  When people e-mail us to thank us for writing about a book that they were curious about, that’s also incredibly gratifying.  But again, we don’t do this for a living, but the bookstores do.

As people who produce independent literary events, we are of the opinion that yes, bookstores should be able to charge for events.  Obviously what events and how much is up to their discretion, but if the folks behind your local brick and mortar are under the impression that charging ten dollars for you to see an author that the New York Times or New Yorker would charge you just as much or more to see at one of their events or festivals, that seems totally reasonable.  If they come up with a plan that you get a book with your admission, or two free drinks (possibly provided by a local brewery for free or at a discount?), that is a fantastic deal.  You’ve already got a copy of the evening’s reader book?  That’s awesome!  Maybe take another book of the same value.  And you know what else?  Writers are people too.  They will probably stick around and chat with you after they’re all done reading, and you can take a picture with them to post on your Facebook, and everybody will think you are the smartest friend they have because you mingle with bestselling writers of neuronovels.  Be excited you’re doing this, because you know what else you could be doing?  Hanging out in a bar you don’t like, among people you don’t know, who are talking about things you don’t care about, and then, all of a sudden, two hours have passed and you’ve spent double the amount you would have spent had you gone and paid to see Ms. Fancypants 20 Under 40 read from her work of historical fiction.

This is the sort of engagement that keeps community going.  These are the types of things that get people interested.  It obviously goes both ways, but we believe that indie booksellers understand that.  These people genuinely care about what they do, and they put these events together as a way to make more money to keep on going, but also because the book community is one that they care about.


  1. While I appreciate the sentiment, it’s false logic. Most people don’t want to pay to keep a bookstore afloat and using that as the reasoning will turn a lot of people off. It is a business, after all. (I heard that frequently when I owned my own little—now-defunct—children’s bookstore. I learned the lesson well.)

    Instead, changing readers’ perceptions is necessary. People are willing to pay $50, $100, even $100 dollars for a ticket to see their favorite musician in concert. Why should they not be willing to pay $5 to see a favorite author. And if that $5 goes toward purchase of the book, they should have no qualms. They are getting value in exchange for money.

    What I see the general public taking issue with is the idea that they have to keep a business afloat. Help them see that they are paying for entertainment, a special experience, and the appearance of a woe-is-me attitude disappears. Instead, a business practicing good business practices emerges. There’s much less room for the appearance of martyrdom.

  2. So by your logic, forcing some impoverished kid or an unemployed person who doesn’t always have the five bucks to chip into the pot (but who may, somewhere down the line, be a loyal regular when he DOES have the catch) means that he’s selfish or not part of the community? Wow, Jason, you’re more of an elitist than I would have figured.

  3. My logic isn’t forcing anybody to pay anything. That’s one of the main reasons I don’t charge for Vol. 1 events, because I know half of my friends (including myself) are broke and probably couldn’t afford it. The point I’m trying to make is that if a bookstore has a business plan that includes paying their rent, employees, etc. by putting on some of their events for a fee, then I believe that is totally fine. Would I necessarily pay to go all of these events for the sake of supporting a bookstore or the literary scene as a whole? No. I can’t afford that. I just don’t think it’s fair to shit on the idea of people finding ways to make their business work.

    I’m not presenting some perfect model here, but I do feel like this should be opened up for more debate. I said it should be up to the discretion of the bookstore as to what events they decide to charge money for, and how much they decide to charge, but it could also be left up to them to decide if they maybe wanted to work on some barter deal like if somebody who doesn’t have money really wants to see the event, maybe they can donate their time to helping clean up after it’s over?

    I don’t necessarily think that is elitist to try and open it up to conversation.

  4. I love bookstores. I love independent bookstores. I hate chains. But for better or worse, I think the small, independent bookstore is a dead model, and it’s going to die tomorrow or die in five years, just as the record stores did. A few bookstores will remain in culturally vibrant enclaves, just as you can find places to buy vinyl today in Brooklyn or the Haight, but they’ll be tourist attractions as much as anything else.
    Charging for author events might slow the process down by six months, but it isn’t going to make the difference in the long run any more than CD signing parties kept the record shops alive. I would love to be proven wrong about this, because I love a good bookstore. I do not, however, love it enough to pay a premium for it, keeping it on life support as if it were the town’s last blacksmith and it would be a shame to have a town without a blacksmith.

  5. I have worked in a book store for over 20 years, for 10 years I have worked author events. Things have changed. We get about 40-70 people attending events 5-6 nights a week. There are some regulars that come just to see who is talking about what, they buy the book less the 50% of the time. When an event forces us to close the floor that means we have 300 people at the event. At the end of the night we find we have sold less then 100 books…that sucks. We have some events off site and we charge for those events, you also get a signed copy of the book with your ticket. This works to benefit the everyone..we fill & pay for the space and the author sells 600 books.

    Someone on another comment stated…”people pay $50-$100 to see their favorite musician, opera or play”. If you love the book and want to see the author speak then why not pay to support the author or the venue that provided that service?

    I think there is a fine line, not every event needs to have a service fee. But people need to understand that if the bookstore that you see all those” great free events” goes under…you will be paying a lot more to see the author next time, if there is a next time.