The SF Chronicle’s Tamara Straus looks at the recent trend of publishers sending authors not to the bookstores, but to the workplace to tour. Since the fall of 2005, for example, Google has joined several large West Coast companies such as Microsoft, Starbucks and Yahoo in hosting authors for weekly, sometimes daily, book-selling events that were once the sacred realm of bookstores. Although writers have long given lectures at universities and community centers, growing demand for them at the office is forcing publishers to rethink the traditional author tour and inducing booksellers to create ties with the corporate campus next door.
“There are so many distractions out there,” said Yelena Gitlin, publicity manager for Bloomsbury Books, who started bringing authors to Microsoft and Starbucks in 2003. “It’s hard to get people into bookstores these days, so book publishers and sellers have to come to readers — and they are often at work.” And the approach is working, according to Kim Ricketts, who runs her own company organizing non-bookstore events in Seattle and San Francisco. “At public bookstore events, 10 to 20 percent of the people buy books. At corporate events, 50 to 80 percent buy books and attendance tends to be higher,” she said. Plus, some companies, like Google, buy the books on behalf of their employees, often in orders of a hundred copies or more.
Which may make some bookstores shake in their boots, but not Bay Area stores. “I don’t see it as a threatening thing. I think it’s a good thing,” said Karen West, events director of Book Passage in Corte Madera, which holds about 100 in-store author events a month and has been steadily developing corporate partners. “But if publishers become booksellers, that’s a whole other phenomenon. … Nobody wants to see that happen, and I think publishers are aware of that.”