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Could Publishers Start Charging for Office Tours?

A view of Random Houses Lobby

A view of Random House's LobbyBy Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

Perusing the new issue of The Atlantic this morning I ran across a breezy article by Megan McArdle entitled “The Genius of QVC” about the sales techniques of the QVC television shopping network — you know, those folks who hawk jewelry, appliances and electronics 24-7 on several of your basic cable or satellite channels.

Amid the discussion about how QVC manages to sell so much — their sales pitch is less pitch than a “coffee Klatch where friends trade tips” — was the news that QVC charges “fans” $75 to take an “All Access Tour” of its massive facility (said to be the size of 15 football fields) in an office part outside Philadelphia.

Apparently, it’s quite popular.

This got me to thinking that publishers could try the same thing to generate some much needed cash flow.

I maintain that the biggest audience for books these days isn’t necessarily readers, but aspiring writers. What if Random House turned itself into a tourist attraction — say, charge $75 per person for a tour once per week. Junior editorial assistant or interns could lead the tours, which would end with a ten minute Q&A with someone from marketing, publicity or editorial (again on a rotating schedule). You could rotate the tour among various imprints, so it’s not too disruptive.

The tour would start in room where guests would be shown a short video history of the company and a few book trailers; it would end in a small “gift shop,” with new books for sale, along with various branded items, such as totes and coffee mugs.

I personally know scores of aspiring writers and book lovers who would pay a decent sum just for a peek inside publishers offices. There’s a reason ice cream lovers love touring ice cream factories, so why not give book lovers the chance to do the same?

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  1. Posted May 12, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    The picture looks like a giant shelf of glass bottles of snake oil. And so it all is, in a sense. :)

  2. Posted May 12, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    If this makes money for struggling publishers, then great idea! But having worked in publishing offices all my life, I can’t see paying for this. I am sure the same would apply for people who work at, say, Disneyworld. I doubt they would be interested in paying for a tour of that either, while others of us pay hundreds for a “tour.”

  3. James dissette
    Posted May 13, 2010 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Having just returned from Random House/Knopf’s 21st floor I’d say that, aside from the broadsides announcing their many Pulitzers,National Book Awards and Nobels that you would find a fairly quiet floor of offices, humble even.It actually looks like all they do is work there! OK, OK, there’s a letter from the Publisher of the NYT to Alfred Knopf in 1915 wishing the book publisher “success with his new venture” And oh, that’s right there were a few broadsides listing authors who published with Knopf—Franz Kafka jumped right out. And somewhere Chip Kidd is working on a book cover and Cormac McCarthy might stroll by as you listen to an animated discussion about the iPad platform.

    Never mind. I want to live there.

  4. Erin
    Posted May 14, 2010 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    Having worked in (and waited in the lobby for friends) in some of these iconic publishing buildings and seen people coming in to take pictures of the Random House lobby or the Conde Nast building, I can say that plenty of “civilians” would find this tour sort of enticing. If you offered a free book at the end, I guarantee you’d make a ton of money.

  5. James
    Posted May 17, 2010 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    If the visitors center for Hallmark Cards can become one of the biggest tourist attractions in Kansas City, a publishing giant like Random House could certainly do it. (And sell a ton of books along the way).

One Trackback

  1. By Allison and Busby on June 22, 2010 at 4:14 am

    […] There are always some novel ideas being floated as to alternative ways for us publishers to make some money. Could marketing a grand tour of our offices could be one of them?  Read this article on Publishing Perspectives. […]

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