Out with the book tour?

By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  June 6, 2007

Powell’s Books, the Portland, Oregon-based mega-bookstore and one of the largest online booksellers in the world, is trying out an alternative to the traditional author’s book-reading event to promote a new release.

The new event series, called “Out of the Book,” begins in mid-June with the release of renowned English writer Ian McEwan’s new novel, On Chesil Beach (published June 5 by Nan A. Talese). Gatherings to herald the book’s debut will be held nearly simultaneously at more than 50 independent bookstores around the country. Instead of the standard author reading/Q&A session, Powell’s has commissioned a director to create a short film about McEwan and his new novel, which will be supplemented by locally-geared performances and lectures.

Dave Weich, director of marketing at Powell’s and creator of “Out of the Book,” considers the promotion a way to “get the book world into the 21st century.” He likens the event to the advent of MTV, the first opportunity a large number of people had an opportunity to see musicians in a visual medium. McEwan’s novel was selected after the idea’s conception, because of his strong name recognition and his lack of plans to do a US book tour; even if he had, a ten-city national tour wouldn’t reach nearly as many people as this event might.

Weich also sees “Out of the Book” as an opportunity for bookstores to take advantage of his company’s formidable marketing ability. Powell's is supplying promotional materials to all participating bookstores, and prominently features a film trailer and list of screening locations on its Web site. Rather than an attempt to out-hustle author tours, the event appears to be a genuine attempt to bring book lovers together and get people interested in reading (and, of course, buying) contemporary fiction (from, of course, your friendly neighborhood indie bookstore).

The film uniting all of these readings is directed by Doug Biro, best known for helming music videos for Rufus Wainwright, Kings of Leon, Christina Aguilera, and Natalie Cole. While it sounds suspiciously like a DVD extra — including interviews with McEwan, critics and fans, and on-location footage aimed at giving a deeper understanding of the novel’s context — Powell’s has invested enough in the quality of the film to give it an original soundtrack and sell DVDs of it on their Web site and at each event.

The “Out of the Book” program held here in Portland is sponsored by Longfellow Books, and will be at One Longfellow Square on June 14 at 7 pm. It will consist of a film screening and a staged dramatic reading by two actors from Portland Stage Company’s Longfellow Shorts series. Though admission is technically $5, the event is essentially free because the cover earns you a $5 gift certificate to Longfellow Books. Also keep your eyes on Listings for details on a June 20 event at Frontier Café and Cinema in Brunswick.

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