Bypassing the bookstore

By Carmen Comment

Though the Seattle Times’ piece on authors like Mitch Albom going to Starbucks has been done before, of particular interest was the fact that Albom’s day in town, which began by reading to about 600 employees at Starbucks‘ corporate headquarters, then answered questions from more than 250 fans at the Starbucks at Madison Park and finally read again at a candle-lit literary salon at the swanky Palace Ballroom in Belltown, was organized by someone who’s made an entire career out of “out of the box” book events.

“It’s a win-win situation,” said Kim Ricketts, founder and owner of Kim Ricketts Book Events, who organizes authors to do readings at the workplaces of Boeing, Starbucks, Microsoft and public venues in both Seattle and San Francisco. “When I organize an event at, say, Microsoft, those employees get to hear about something they’re interested in. The author gets an audience with a group of people interested in what he’s doing, and the publisher gets a room full of people who are buying books.” And so she has since 2003, putting together corporate events for books of all stripes at a clip of 20 to 30 a month (with a special eye for cookbooks.) But as Ricketts’ business takes off, what does this mean for booksellers, who devote time and energy to lure big names to their stores – also keep on selling their backlist, the real meat of the publishing industry?

“It’s bad business,” Robert Sindelar, manager and buyer at Third Place Books, says of publishers’ endorsement of literary salons. “They’re excited because it’s new and cutting edge, but these events don’t sell their backlist.” Ricketts, not surprisingly, doesn’t think her business overlaps with that of the bookstore. “A lot of people actually need to be reminded they like to read,” she said. “And when I’m able to do that by going to places where people aren’t actively seeking out books, it’s good for everyone. If people start buying more books, where are they going to go? A bookstore, right?”