Monday, 28 July 2014

How much is too much for an event?

On 19th August two rather famous authors are having an evening chatting to each other in the Freemasons' Hall in London. These authors are George R R Martin and Robin Hobb, two authors who I have read and absolutely loved. All sound good so far? Did to me as well, until I realised that the event was being charged at £45. On a personal level, I cannot afford that amount, but I know that that isn't going to worry the publisher or authors, considering that my Twitter timeline is full of people stating that they've already brought their tickets.

I think that £45 is too much for an author event, no matter how famous the authors are or how many spoilers George *might* reveal about The Winds of Winter. I had a look and, for the same price, you can get a day pass to Nine Worlds, which would allow you to see many authors in conversation - and, I'm sure, if you take along books by those authors, you would be able to get them signed.

For absolute free, Fantasy Faction are hosting the Grim Gathering, an evening with Peter V Brett, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence and Myke Cole. For free! Why, therefore, are we being charged to see £45 to see two authors?

One person suggested that this is now how publishers/authors will make their money - like bands now have to tour in order to make money because they are certainly not making money from selling music in these days of downloading and piracy. We've often asked how exactly authors make any money, and maybe now we have the answer.

Or perhaps the high fee is to pay for the location which is, frankly, gorgeous:

Just to add in another book event for discussion (one that is much cheaper), let's look at the Gollancz Festival. Here we have authorial powerhouses such as Joe Hill and Patrick Rothfuss. The cost? £6. For a whole evening of fun, and several organised panels.

So, I do ask, would you pay £45? Why? What makes this event so special, compared to the others I mention? Just the presence of GRRM?


  1. It does seem an awful lot of money. Certainly more than I, and a lot of my friends, can afford. Have to wonder what it's going on - room hire or appearance fees? If it's mainly that latter, that's...disappointing from two huge-selling authors. I can't imagine charging for a signing; it seems to be gouging the fans a little bit :(

  2. Depending on the authors in question, I might, MAYBE pay that much. Maybe. I think there are about 2 or 3 authors I would pay that much to go see, and that's about all. And honestly, if pushed, I could probably shorten that list to a single author.

    That also assumes I regularly have around $80 CDN to spare to go see a couple of people chat to each other and possibly to me. Which I very often don't. So even if there were authors speaking and I wanted to go see them and was willing to pay that much for the privilege, I'd probably just end up kicking the ground in frustration because I just couldn't afford the cover charge.

    I can understand covering the cost of the venue, authors making money, all that stuff. But that's a lot of money to ask people to spend.

  3. That is way too much money for me. It's OK for a one-day event, but for a two author event it is way too much.
    Even though I love Robin Hobbs books, and am really excited about the new one, there is no way I can justify paying that much to see her and get some books signed.

    I don't think this is the future of author events. The authors who have trouble making ends meet from their books alone will not be interesting enough for the general public to be willing to pay enough for them to earn enough from it. I don't think Hobb, and certainly not GRRM, needs the money.
    It could very well be though that this is an event that actually costs enough for the publisher to hold that they are not making money from it. There is a signed Hardback of Hobb's latest included, and that is £20*. So you could say that the price of the event is actually £25.

    *Yes, I know you can get the book cheaper than that, but that is the RRP.

  4. I wonder if, given the location, they aren't making it into quite the evening - nice drinks/seating and stuff? I don't know. They are two pretty great authors and it will certain stir up the drama. I wonder if charging so much for it isn't sort of the point? That it makes a statement about how great these authors are.

    I cannot imagine that either GRRM or Robin Hobb need the money. But, as a huge Robin Hobb fan, it did make me feel oddly like *my* author was being recognised for being paired with GRRM and costing a lot to go and see. Not that I think that justifies the price, but I do wonder if the price, the location, making it more of an Event, isn't a way of staking them out as The Greats.

    I'm reminded of when I did my MA, and the head of the programme obtained special funding to buy a series of tapes of conversations between Donald Davison and Q V Quine. Now, as two greats of 20th Century philosophy, that kind of a converstation is a genuinely useful thing to have a recording of, although a lot of the cost comes from having only a tiny specialist audience that could conceivably want to buy such a thing. But it does go to show that something a conversation is not 'just' a conversation. Not 'just' something you could have with an author in a bar at a con. And there can be an advantage in hearing the sorts of questions that another great in the field would ask, and the sort of answers that would be given. I certainly do learn more from seeing what Davidson asks Quine than I would if I could speak to the great man himself.

    I think I'd enjoy the event if I were there. If I were loaded, I'd probably go. Both are popular enough that they are likely to have enough wealthy fans who would go. It does seem sort of exclusionary to price out some fans this way but... I can't see it as a common model for pricing. Although there are many good authors out there, I'm hard pressed to think of another pairing I would pay £45 to see talk if I had the money. GRRM and Stephen King? Even then, probably not. Robin Hobb and Ursula K Le Guin? Probably, actually, but I imagine there would be some serious intellectual stimulation, as well as fangirling, at such an event. I think there is something mercurial about the pairing of GRRM and Robin Hobb - I don't think it would work for just any authors, even other really successful authors.

    I think it's primarily a marketing stunt that will benefit both in sharing fans and raising profile - setting them up as THE people to see in conversation.

  5. £45 seems pretty steep to listen to two authors. You can almost certainly go to several local cons for less than that and actually talk to a number of authors for less than that.
    Charging a fee for a talk as a way for authors to make a living doesn't sound like a particularly sustainable model for anyone who isn't already making lots of money as a bestseller. A chicken and the egg problem there.

  6. Even my (long-standing) admiration and love for their books can't bring me to justify spending this amount of money on one evening. As is rightly pointed out, you can get a whole day at NineWorlds for that much money, and similar events, with similar authors are much more reasonably priced (or free). Obviously there are a lot of fans who will be in London at the moment, and who may well be willing to pay this cost, so I'm sure it's worth putting the ticket price this high, and there is a signed hardback included, but it excludes anyone without that sort of disposable income at their fingertips. £45 is equivalent to over two weeks' food for me, I don't have that sort of money for just one evening.

    1. Can't tell why it was making me anonymous, I signed in with wordpress. It's Louie here/loustow on wordpress/louiestowell on twitter. :)

  7. I paid that much. Well, twice that much as I bought a ticket for my wife too! As an industry person, I can see the value in pricing the tickets that high - giving authors/publishers another revenue stream. As a punter, it's quite a painful amount. But at the same time, as a GRRM fan and an obsessive about world building (the focus of some of the discussion I understand) it feels worth it. And I hadn't actually noticed the venue so that wasn't a factor. I'd never pay that much to see an actor talk at a con, but if there were talks like that by TV writers, I definitely would.

    While I have serious issues with Capitalism, that's a wider discussion. Within the context of a flawed system, I'd rather see high prices being placed on things that I think are valuable - the thoughts and time of writers - than stupid stuff like ludicrous designer handbags!

  8. When I attended YALC, held at the LFCC, I was so proud that the authors were signing books and talking to readers for free, whilst all the con people were charging for that 'privilege'.

    However, I can see that for the authors, this would hopefully lead to more sales.. I know I made some unexpected purchases on the day.

    To answer your original question, I wouldn't pay £45 for an event, no matter how big the author - especially as I believe there won't be any signings. The most important thing about the majority of my signed books are the personal comments in there. :)

  9. It's not uncommon for events featuring popular authors to charge admission. For example, when Salman Rushdie did a reading at the venerable Politics & Prose in Washington DC a few years back, the event was was moved out of the bookstore to a larger venue and admission was charged. Otherwise the crowd would have been unmanageable. The event sold out.

    Likewise, GRRM has gotten so popular that his fans will cheerfully shell out £45 to see and hear him - particularly if that means they can do so without fighting their way through a mob at a convention. Indeed, by all accounts many are doing so and are delighted for the opportunity to see Martin and Hobb at the same event. For them it's worth the price of admission.

    How much is too much? That depends on whether the question is asked from an economic or a moral standpoint.

    From an economic standpoint, the price should be that which optimizes the organizers return on the event. I.e., what will the market bear? From that standpoint, the price could actually be higher.

    From a moral standpoint the price should be high enough that gawkers and casual fans will be weeded out, but true believers of somewhat modest means can reasonably scrape together the cost of admission. I believe £45 meets that test.

  10. I thought it a bit steep, but I paid it. I can't afford it but I wouldn't miss the chance to see two powerhouses come together in one room. That and being in London at that exact time seemed like fate! :)

  11. I don't think it's too unreasonable to be honest, though I'm definitely in the minority. I know we readers always say 'authors are my rockstars' and, taking that into account, people would pay ten times that to go to a gig of a superstar and these two authors are to the fantasy genre what Beyonce is to pop music so...yeah, I thought it was okay to charge that much but I also understand that literary events are usually very reasonably priced so I get the other side of the argument too.
    Anyway, I'm rambling!