The latest Marketing Meetup hosted by the American Booksellers Association covered best practices for hosting ticketed events. Booksellers discussed ticketing services, the best platforms for marketing events, and best practices for event grid pitches.
The February 14 Marketing Meetup — one of the biweekly online video conferences hosted by ABA on Zoom.us — featured guest speakers Sara Balabanlilar of Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Texas, and Eliza Thompson of WORD Bookstores in Brooklyn, New York, and Jersey City, New Jersey.
Thompson began by sharing that her stores do one to two ticketed events per month, and tickets are almost exclusively sold through Eventbrite. Eventbrite, which allows users to search for events happening near them, offers analytics that tell businesses how much traffic is being directed to their event by the service itself. For a smaller in-store event, Thompson said that only one percent of ticket sales came from organic Eventbrite traffic. But for WORD’s event with George R.R. Martin, the data showed that 15 percent of ticket sales came from Eventbrite.
One important note about Eventbrite, said Thompson, is that the service pays out in a lump sum after the event is over, rather than as tickets are purchased.
In terms of marketing, Thompson said, events are always posted to the stores’ website, main newsletter, and special ticketed events newsletter. “One of our booksellers is a graphic designer,” she added, “and we always have her design something a little snazzier when we have a big-ticket event to promote, so we can have something that stands out.”
Thompson also said that she finds Instagram effective for promoting events. Stores with verified business accounts and at least 10,000 followers can use the “swipe up” function when posting an Instagram Story, which brings users directly to a link of the store’s choice. Stores can also post a link in their Instagram bio to easily connect readers to events.
When promoting events across social media platforms, Thompson said she typically keeps the information in each post the same. “We go into a little bit more detail in the newsletter because we have more space there,” she said. “When we do our more designed advertisements, we keep it to as few words as possible, so there’s room for photos or the book cover or anything else we want to put on.”
“When we have a big event like George R.R. Martin, we always customize the URL, so it’s easy to get to the website,” Thompson added. “That way you can put the URL on a website without it taking up a ton of space, and it’s also easier for booksellers in the store to tell customers they can go there to buy tickets.”
Balabanlilar said that Brazos uses its own ticketing method. “We create web orders for tickets through our website and create our own tickets,” she said. “It really keeps it on the ground and in-store, and we have control and direct access to ticketing numbers, which is really nice.”
She said that ticketed events usually range in size from 150 to 1,500 people. The store heavily relies on its strong social media presence and its weekly newsletter, which circulates to about 10,000 people. In terms of contacting traditional media outlets, Balabanlilar said, “in Houston it seems really difficult to build a super steady relationship, but we’ve worked really hard to find individuals who are personally invested in the book industry and willing to promote our events for us.”
For off-site venues, Brazos uses local churches and non-profit spaces, which can often become promotional partners as well, Balabanlilar said. She added that Brazos typically offers ticket bundles, which includes one book and one ticket. While the store usually won’t tack on any added costs, it will sometimes offer a companion ticket at the price of five dollars. This way, families can buy multiple tickets without having to purchase multiple copies of the book; this option is specifically relevant to kids’ events and depends on whether the event is in-store or off-site.
Like Thompson, Balabanlilar emphasized the importance of using custom URLs to promote events, as that makes it easier for everyone to access the details. She also recommended posting a variety of content to social media, as well as branding events with the store’s logo.
“I have Google Alerts on for all the authors we host events for, so we can really call upon a wide variety of articles and reviews about the book,” she said. “Our initial posts during the first week we’re promoting the event are typically general information about the event, and then after that we really try to diversify with content about the author...which has been really important in making sure that our customers keep engaging with the posts.”
Balabanlilar also touched on publisher event grid pitches. While she’s fairly new to doing event grids for the store, she finds it’s important to focus on the fact that the store will be doing a book-ticket bundle “because it’s pure book sales at that point,” she said. “We’re also able to convert our ticket sales into book sales the week of the book’s release, and we’re a bestseller reporting store, so I think that helps with our event grids, as well as strongly promoting our personal interest in the book and our customers’ interest in the author. We really rely on partnering with local organizations as well.”
Thompson added that when pitching an event, it’s important for booksellers to be realistic in the number of attendees they expect, while also planning for the maximum number their venue allows.
Overall, hosting ticketed events is a crucial aspect to Brazos’ in-store sales, said Balabanlilar. “When we have an announcement of a new event, it has a huge impact on our daily sales, and being able to ring that into our register is very exciting,” she said. “We’re in a little strip center in Houston, and Houston isn’t a walking city. People don’t necessarily wander into the bookstore randomly all day, so we rely heavily on our events schedule.”