By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid
A new start-up conceived and incubated within a company that has virtually nothing to do with the book industry aims to help authors and publicists bring the book tour back.
Togather.com, an online start-up incubated within the New York-based digital development and design agency Huge, is a platform designed for authors, publicists, librarians, bookstore owners and regular readers to create, manage and find successful live and virtual book events.
In the past decade, book tours have diminished in popularity as a marketing tool in the publishing industry as budgets have tightened and shifted toward digital and social media marketing. Yet, appearing in front of an audience primed for book-buying is still an effective way to market and sell books.
“Publishing people told me, ‘yes, events are the best way to sell books’ and then ‘don’t do events because they’ll be a disaster,'” said Andrew Kessler, founder and CEO of Togather.
Kessler’s brush with the publishing industry came in 2011 when he published a book called Martian Summer (Pegasus Books) about 90 days spent in NASA’s mission control center for a Mars exploration project. A long-time member the advertising industry — he was a creative director at Huge until the launch of Togather — Kessler helped his publisher generate some 1,000 articles about the book’s launch. While that press didn’t lead to sales, Kessler said, it did lead to speaking events, which did lead to sales.
Kessler put two and two together: a book tour was his ticket to sales.
But, “Publishing people said it would be a disaster and it was,” he said. “I would get there and there would be three people in the audience.”
The Togather platform is designed to allow any interested party to propose or create an author event and gives authors and publicists the ability to guarantee the event be a success on their terms or not hold one at all.
A librarian wants to have an author of a new book come speak at his library. He finds the author on Togather and notes on the author’s calendar that she will be in the librarian’s town for three days next month. He can propose a time and place for the event directly to the author through the platform and choose one of three methods for guaranteeing the event is a success: sell a minimum number of books at the event; guarantee a minimum number of attendees; or pay an honorarium determined by the author. To raise the money to pay for the honorarium, the librarian can either choose to hold a ticketed event or foot the bill himself.
The platform is designed to make these decisions simple to execute.
Once the details of the event are entered into Togather, an event proposal is sent to the author with the information: date, location and level of proposed success (how many books will be bought before the event or the size of the audience or honorarium). In her profile, the author can indicate the minimum size event she’ll do or the smallest honorarium she will accept. If the event proposal isn’t ideal, the author can either reject it or respond to the librarian with comments or requests. Once details are agreed upon, an event is scheduled and added to the author’s calendar for anyone to see and a public event page is created. Once an event is created, attendees can register or buy tickets to the event through the site.
Authors and publicists can also create their own events or series of events and market and manage them through the site. For authors, publicists and book marketers, it’s meant to be a way to create and manage book tours that are guaranteed to meet goals.
For librarians, bookstore owners and book lovers, it’s meant to be a place to find authors to speak and to book events.
And for people who love attending author events, it’s a place to find local events — eventually.
The site plans to raise revenue through book and ticket sales. Books can be bought in advance of events to help fund them. They can also be discounted. Togather will take a 30% cut of book sales, like many other retailers, and a 5% cut of ticket sales. For now, the site will only sell print books but will move to selling e-books, soon.
In addition to allowing scheduling and managing of events, the platform helps authors and organizers promote the event through email and social media. It also provides data to authors that are designed to let them know how well their events perform and to manage the direct relationships they generate through collecting event registrations: names, emails and other demographic information. (See full size screen shots of event creation and other pages below.)
Start-ups in Book Publishing
Togather is part of a larger trend of start-ups entering book publishing, capitalizing on transition in the industry — away from traditional modes of publishing, marketing and distribution and toward more digital ones. Unlike some other start-ups spearheaded by book industry veterans — Open Road Media or Zola, for instance — Togather was born out of a digital agency and someone only recently associated with the industry: a first-time author.
At Huge, owned by publicly traded advertising conglomerate Interpublic Group, there is currently an initiative for employees to build products that other companies can use even if there is no client to buy the product yet. Togather was born of this initiative.
While Huge has done some digital development work for Simon & Schuster and Barnes & Noble in the past, Kessler said, the company has no real book industry experience. Still, the book industry is so dynamic today that even a non-book-industry player can find opportunity for innovation.
Togather is owned in part by Kessler and Huge. Interpublic Group is the company’s sole angel investor. It currently has eight employees, including engineers and online product professionals.
Building a way to bring the book tour back is nothing, said Kessler, compared to other challenges he’s been privy to since researching Martian Summer at NASA. Togather has been launched and time will tell whether its mission is a success. Perhaps a more interesting question for Kessler is when will humans walk on the face of Mars?
“It’s so hard to predict,” said Kessler. “We don’t have any of the technology to get people to Mars, but humans are amazing at solving problems. It never ceases to amaze me that when humans put their minds to something, they solve it.”
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