Some Used to Dread Readings. Now They Sell Out.

When the writer and professor Amitava Kumar invited the book scout Erin Edmison to his reading at McNally Jackson Books’ Seaport location in February, Ms. Edmison penciled it into her calendar and “didn’t think twice about it,” she said, “because I am old, and that’s the way things used to work.”

On the night of the reading, she arrived at the bookstore to discover that she needed a $5 ticket to the event, which was sold out. “It didn’t even occur to me,” Ms. Edmison, 48, said.

She got in eventually. After a brief wait near the cash register with the other walk-ins, Ms. Edmison was able to stand in the back of the room. “It wasn’t a big deal,” she said. She was happy to see that Mr. Kumar, who is a friend, had a packed house.

In the New York of the recent past, readings were events one could wander into, perhaps as a recent college graduate aspiring to be a published writer or simply looking for something to do. But these days, McNally Jackson and a handful of other independent bookstores across the city have begun requiring people to buy tickets or R.S.V.P. to attend readings. Tickets can cost anywhere from a few bucks to some $30, depending on whether you buy the book, too, sometimes rolled into the price.

The author Michael Cunningham spoke to a sold-out room at McNally Jackson’s Seaport location in November.Credit…Yvonne Brooks

New Yorkers may have gotten used to the idea that nothing in the city is ever really free and that everything is hard to get into. Nonetheless, some have begun to wonder: What changed?

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