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Why book tours are passé

Author readings and signing sessions, once the staple of publishing publicity, are being usurped by virtual encounters and promotional videos.

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The author tour, with its accompanying readings and signings, has come to be the quintessential tool for promoting books. It is a chance for writers to charm their readers and for readers to glimpse the person behind the words. At its best, the meeting can be electric. (At worst, nobody shows up.)

But in the past five years or so, observers say the traditional author tour has been in decline: Fewer writers are being sent out, and those who do tour make fewer stops. Among the many reasons for this shift are marketing tools that have made it possible to orchestrate a virtual encounter, without the hassle or expense of travel. Publishers and authors are now touting books through podcasts, film tours, blog tours, book videos, and book trailers. In fact, it's unusual for a book not to have some sort of Web presence. (Blue van Meer, the fictional main character in the 2006 novel "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" by Marisha Pessl, even has her own MySpace page.)

Publicity departments used to be places where wacky ideas originated but languished, says Carol Schneider, executive director of publicity for Random House. Now, with the Internet, she says, "they are really able to carry [those ideas] out."

Each is a small experiment, an incremental move, as the publishing industry has begun to embrace the Internet and other new media. It's hard not to wonder, though, whether their cumulative effect will one day render the face-to-face bookstore meeting between writer and reader obsolete.

An author's emissary: a short film

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