Virtual Event: Ahead of Our Time?

We pitched an idea to Indigo this week. It’s a beautifully elegant, but simple solution to environmental and economic considerations: The Virtual Event.

Environmental Impact

As part of Five Rivers’ commitment to reduce our carbon footprint, and increase our environmental support, we’re looking for an alternative to the traditional book signing and reading which sees an author travel to a location and meet face to face with fans and potential buyers. Recently, we did a small test of a remote event at the University of Waterloo bookstore and Titles at McMaster University, employing their Espresso Book Machines and a Skype video conference using laptops and webcams. The event, although small, was certainly well-received at Titles, completely ignored at Waterloo. Despite that we think the concept well worth developing. It just needs the right spin.

The Concept

The concept is quite simple, and requires only minimal set-up on the part of bookseller staff, with considerable support from Five Rivers.

1. We mutually agree to a virtual event to be hosted by bookseller locations throughout Canada;

2. Laptop (or monitor with wireless computer and internet access) with webcam, set up in a prominent location in the subject store, just as if an author were sitting at a table, surrounded by a display of books. If the hardware is not available at that location, Five Rivers is willing to pursue cross-promotion with a local electronics store;

3. Modest seating for customers to encourage them to participate in the reading, and to converse with the author as though sitting in the author’s home;

4. Set up of a free Skype account in order to facilitate the video conference. This is a very easy procedure, and opens the door for future video-conferencing for not only Five Rivers’ authors appearing at that location, but allows the store to host remote events through other publishers;

5. Five Rivers will provide posters and bookmarks to promote the event, as well as a considerable Internet and social media campaign, combined with more traditional media releases to local print and broadcast media;

6. Five Rivers will provide individually signed bookplates which can be affixed by a CSR at time of purchase. This feature provides a personal touch for customers, and substitutes for the actual author signing;

7. The bookseller announces the event through whatever actual and virtual media they wish. Five Rivers will tie into this and cross-promote.

Long Term Impact

Such a promotional strategy opens the door for further virtual events to occur across Canada, allowing greater variety and sales potential for booksellers, as well as fostering a cooperative corporate culture that supports real environmental change. Such a strategy goes a long way to giving the nod to innovative publishing strategies that not only support Canadian culture, but viable, environmentally sustainable, economic alternatives. It should be noted this is not the sort of thing giants like Amazon could consider, and gives a vibrant, positive and superior profile to any bookseller’s public presence.

The Response from Indigo
Unfortuantely the proposal was declined. Why? Not enough public interest.
That public interest isn’t sufficient doesn’t surprise any of us at Five Rivers. Some of us have been on the environmental crusade since the early 1970s when it wasn’t fashionable to speak out in favour of radical thinking. There would always be fish in the sea. The Canadian cod fishery is closed.
There would always be fresh water. In a country that has the largest fresh water supply in the world — Canada — we consume vast amounts of bottled water, and many of our First Nations settlements have been on boil-water advisories for upward of a decade.
The polar caps are disappearing at an alarming rate. But still we debate, we vascilate, we conscientiously recyle packaging that shouldn’t have made it into our homes in the first place.
So you see, it’s not that Indigo was being uncooperative. Quite otherwise. The regional manager for Ontario was quite supportive of the concept, wanted to see it work, had tried other tests with well-known publishing houses and authors, and the events, including Margaret Atwood and her remarkable Long-Pen technology, failed. The concept is dead on the drawing-board, awaiting some change in public attitude that will ressurect not just a passing interest, but a grass-roots supported concept that brings literature and those who create it into our lives with as little impact on the environment as possible.
I’ll leave you with the following chart to consider. You decide from there whether the virtual author event is worth supporting or not.
From Neustadt, Ontario Chapters, 797 Memorial Avenue, Thunder Bay, ON car 0.31 tonnes

From Neustadt, Ontario Chapters, 1425 Kingsway Road, Sudbury, ON car 0.09 tonnes

From Neustadt, Ontario World’s Biggest Bookstore, 20 Edward Street, Toronto, ON car 0.04 tonnes

From Neustadt, Ontario Chapters, Bayers Lake Power Centre, 188 Chain Lake Drive, Halifax, NS plane 0.84

From Neustadt, Ontario Chapters, 70 Kenmount Street, St. John’s, NF plane 1.65

From Neustadt, Ontario Indigo, 1500, avenue McGill College, Montreal, QC plane 1.87

From Neustadt, Ontario Indigo, 1590 Kenaston Blvd, Winnipeg, MB plane 0.66

From Neustadt, Ontario Chapters, Southland Mall, 2625 Gordon Street, Regina, SK plane 0.77

From Neustadt, Ontario Chapters, West Edmonton Mall, 8882-170th Street, Edmonton, AB plane 1.37

From Neustadt, Ontario Chapters, 2505 Granville Street, Vancouver, BC plane 1.37

Total Carbon Savings if done by virtual event 14.97 tonnes

 If you’re a bookseller and interested in partnering with an innovative, forward-thinking publisher that has a conscience and a commitment not only to excellence in literature, but excellence in decreasing environmental impact and finding sustainable alternatives for business, contact us. We’d love to hear from you.


  1. It's not that Indigo doesn't agree. In fact they do support the concept, would like to see it implemented.
    The problem lies with the public, who, for the most part, couldn't give a flying fajita. Nope, they want their author in the flesh, in reality, large carbon footprint be damned.
    It's a public attitude we need to change, because it's from the public change happens.

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