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Kid-Friendly Book Tours (Author Not Included)

For years, publishing houses have flown authors around the country to promote their latest works. But with book sales down 3% last year, publishers, like marketers of all stripes, are trying to be more creative. Consider the authorless book tour. Ever since Random House launched its Stupid Smelly Bus Tour six years ago to promote Barbara Park's Junie B. Jones series for kids 4 to 8, the idea of leaving the author at home has gained momentum in children's publishing, a $3.3 billion slice of the $24 billion book industry. Without the writer, says Michael Norris, a senior analyst at Simba Information in Stamford, Conn., "There is a lot more a publisher can do." The tours focus instead on the books' characters (who engage kids more than authors do) and hit venues beyond big cities. To promote the just-published Junie B.'s Essential Survival Guide to School, this fall's 16-stop tour (with an actress as Junie) will hit modest Milford, N.H. Noreen Marchisi, publicity director for Random House children's books, says the bus promotion costs more than an author tour, but the sales it sparks justify the expense.

This summer, Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams, did a 20-day Ice Cream Truck summer reading tour, dishing out free scoops at 31 city libraries to publicize the October 2009 launch of the fourth book in Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid series (ages 7 to 12), which has sold more than 20 million copies. "Preselling a book is more important than ever," says Abrams publicity and marketing director Jason Wells, who declined to say what the tour cost but noted that traditional readings take a chunk of authors' time when "we need them writing."

And on a recent September afternoon, about 30 children jammed into Manhattan's Books of Wonder to join actors in interactive skits based on John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice medieval fantasy series, published by Penguin Group's Philomel imprint (ages 10 and up). Don Weisberg, president of Penguin Young Readers Group, says the 26-stop tour costs Penguin 25% more than author readings. At the bookshop, Milton Cohen, 7, seemed to enjoy the show, pleading afterward with his grandmother to buy one of the Flanagan books. Would he rather have met the author? "Nah," he said.

Café, Croissant, et Windows 7

Coming soon to France: a different kind of computer pop-up. Microsoft (MSFT) will open a temporary café in Paris on Oct. 22 to create buzz for the global launch of its Windows 7 operating system on that day. The planned Windows Café, near the busy Chatelet-Les Halles commuter rail station, will be a first for Microsoft. It's modeled after the pop-up stores—those that open without warning and close after a short time—used by retailers such as Gap (GPS) and Nike (NKE) to promote new products.

The Windows Café will sell espresso, latte, and snacks as customers test-drive Windows 7 and other software on PCs, mobile devices, and Xbox game consoles. But no software or hardware will be sold. "The café is just a temporary marketing scheme and will be open only for a few months," says Clémence Brondel, a publicist for Microsoft in France. Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland (Wash.) firm that tracks Microsoft, says the café shows the company's "shotgun" marketing approach, which lets subsidiaries worldwide run their own promos. Microsoft says it's not planning pop-ups elsewhere. But "if the café works," Cherry says (and he predicts it will), "I'm sure it will be replicated in another market."

College: Rising Costs, Diminishing Returns

This hasn't been a good decade so far for young college grads. Full-time workers ages 25 to 34 with only bachelor's degrees saw a sharp 11% decline in their real earnings between the end of the tech boom in 2000 and 2008. That's according to income statistics released on Sept. 10 by the U.S. Census Bureau. The drop in pay for young college grads looks even worse when compared with the continuing rise in college costs over the same stretch (chart right). Adjusted for inflation, tuition, fees, and room and board rose 23% at private four-year schools and 36% at public institutions. The final blow: Young college grads saw a bigger pay drop, on a percentage basis, than peers with only an associate degree.

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