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Summary:

Author tours have never been a guaranteed way to sell books, so many publishers have cut back on them. Togather, a new Brooklyn-based startup, hopes it can reinvent the author tour by guaranteeing that a certain number of books will be sold in advance.

Togather-Screenshot-Proposed-Event

It has never been clear whether author book tours are a worthwhile investment. Fewer publishers are shelling out to send their authors across the country these days — what’s the point if you’re going to sit in an empty bookstore for hours and only sell three copies? — and BookTour.com shut down last year, conceding that “fewer author tours and changes in book marketing budgets have made our company financially unviable.”

Now Brooklyn-based startup Togather (which is not related to this company) hopes to make author book tours more of a sure thing by adding a group-buying dynamic that requires people to commit and buy a book before an author event takes place.

Togather’s founder is 34-year-old Andrew Kessler, author of the book Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and My 90 Days with the Phoenix Mars Mission, which was published by independent publisher Pegasus Books in 2011. Kessler, then the creative director at Brooklyn-based digital agency Huge — which is funding Togather through Huge Labs, its startup incubator for employee projects — says he got a lot of attention for the book (for example, he opened a West Village pop-up bookstore that sold only his book) but “getting a massive amount of media didn’t translate into sales. There was no one thing that, the more I did it, the more copies the book sold. Social media felt successful, but I wasn’t selling books.” So he had the idea of a Groupon-like model for author tours, where if a certain number of people commit to buying a book or attending an event, the event is on.

“This essentially closes the loop on all the social stuff everyone’s doing and turns it into book sales,” Kessler says. “It’s outbound marketing that has a sale at the end of it.”

Togather focuses on three types of events: “Book purchase” events where everyone buys a book in advance; free events where an author doesn’t necessarily have to sell books but wants to know how many people will be there; and ticketed events where the host charges a fee for attendance but doesn’t necessarily require a book purchase.

Anyone — an individual, community group (like a reading group) or organization like a bookstore — can serve as a “host,” put together an event proposal and send it to an author who is on Togather. The author can negotiate — for, say, a stipend or for travel costs to be covered in addition to books bought — and once the author and host agree on the proposal, the host is responsible for getting it out to the community. When enough people agree to come, buy a book in advance or do whatever else is required, the event is on and the author attends.

It’s conceivable that Togather could be used for other types of events, but it is focused on authors for now, in part because a key component of its revenue model is that it acts as a bookstore. Togather has a fulfillment deal with Ingram, where it is buying authors’ books wholesale, selling them at list price and shipping them to buyers. Let’s say an author on Togather agrees to hold a local author event if 25 people buy books in advance. Once 25 people have agreed and put down their credit card numbers, the deal is on and Togather ships the books to customers in advance of the event. It makes revenue from the books, and also takes five percent of sales for ticketed events.

“We want authors to be able to make a living and sell more books through an activity that they control or that their publicist can help them with,” Kessler says. “This is our focus for now.”

At launch today, Togather is still fairly small and is primarily a tool for authors. “You can sign up as a fan on Monday, but you will only be able to book or attend events with the select group of authors already on board,” Kessler says. He says Togather is adding more authors as it can, but “we need to build up the author base and reach critical mass before it becomes fun and has a lot of variety.”

  1. David Thomas Monday, August 6, 2012

    Brilliant idea. Best way to work it is to coordinate with independent bookstore websites — they’ve got mailing lists, too. Love the notion of committing to purchase in advance. There are obvious details such as co-ordinating time, date and publicity tour schedules which complicate things. Mind all: someone has to purchase plane fares, hotel and food expenses. Most established authors have speaking fees and expenses covered, and I really doubt any would waive expenses. I see this as something more akin to Open Table for restaurant reservations than Groupon, getting quasi-contractual commitment to show up at an event. There will also be a cold shower effect for many: in my career an an author once complained about “only” getting an audience of 150 people.

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  2. Kickstarter for book tours? Interesting concept… In traditional tours, do bookstores get any compensation other than the sales of new books?

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  3. If Togather is selling the books and taking the revenue, why would independent bookstores want to get involved?

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    1. Seeley: In traditional tours, usually the only revenue the bookstore gets is the book sales.

      Steve: That is a great question. Let me ask Andrew and get back to you.

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    2. Andrew Kessler Tuesday, August 7, 2012

      Hello Steve,

      We offer several types of events. Book events are just one. There are also free (RSVP-based events) and ticketed events. So bookstores have a choice. We remove many headaches from the process of creating and promoting those types of events too. We encourage bookstores to use the event types that make the most sense.

      We want to be an ally to independent bookstores and our book events are one option. If you’re an independent bookstore owner, we’d love to hear about how we can help you.

      Thanks,

      Andrew Kessler
      Author & Founder of Togather.com

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  4. Any reflection on this idea and Wired’s Chris Anderson? He shut down his business BookTour end of last year (or year before that?) due to poor business results and future expectations.

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  5. Andrew Kessler Tuesday, August 7, 2012

    Sure. I think we’re a response to the failure of the book tour. Author events are a great tool for connecting with and building audiences but publishers can’t justify the cost for most authors. It’s just too expensive to make sure the events are well attended and you’re not talking to a bunch of empty chairs. We are trying to solve that problem with a community-based group-buying approach. It’s a really different way of looking at events. And this simple twist– agree to the event after you have enough interest–might really make a difference for authors.

    -Andrew
    togather.com/kessler

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