Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book View Cafe embraces the Kindle

When you read a lot of news about the Kindle it's easy to get discouraged about the attitudes of publishers and authors, some of which are finding themselves being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Ebook is a four-letter word to many in the business, and digital distribution is seen as the road to piracy and bankruptcy.

Fortunately there are those who "get it" -- who see the benefits of delivering their books via ones and zeros as opposed to pulp and ink. One such group is The Book View Cafe. Part online publisher, part bookstore, the BVC consists of a group of best-selling authors who assembled in 2008 with the goal of building a web site to deliver their works digitally directly to their readers.

Recently they announced a new project called Book View Press, which will consist of works written and edited by BVC members and distributed not only via the BVC but also via the Kindle and Sony eReader stores. Their first offering, Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls, is a sci-fi anthology from thirteen authors.

Kindleville recently chatted with Sarah Zettel, the Project Manager for Book View Cafe, about eBook publishing and their new support for the Kindle.

Kindleville: For most readers e-books are still a relatively new phenomenon, but it looks like you saw the shift coming a couple of years ago. What made you want to move toward e-publishing?

Sarah Zettel: Sheer practicality. Publishers, no matter how good, can only keep so many books in print, and bookstores, even the huge chain, can only stock so many on the shelves. Ebooks allow an author to keep their books in print and available for their readers, and to constantly attract new readers.

Did you see e-books as the future of publishing, or were you just dissatisfied with traditional publishing?

I've been around long enough to have seen several waves of attempts at ebooks, and ebook readers, and each time I've said to myself, «when the hardware is finally truly workable, this will take off.» Then, along came the Kindle, and I said, «Okay, now.»

What was the initial response from readers when you first launched BVC?

We have had very good response from readers and the media right from the beginning and have experienced a gratifying steady growth in user traffic and sales since we opened our virtual doors.

Has reader reaction changed over the years?

Where we've witnessed the biggest change has been mostly within the writing and publishing community. We were met with a great deal of skepticism when we first started out. With the continuing growth in the e-book market, that skepticism has started to turn around.

Book prices at BVC are quite low. Was it a conscious decision to keep prices down or just a benefit of e-publishing and skipping the middle man?

It was a conscious decision. As a cooperative organization without outside investors we need to keep happy, we have the luxury of being able to be somewhat experimental in our pricing.

Some major publishers have said publicly that they disagree that e-books should by definition be cheaper than physical books. What is your opinion on that?

From what I have seen, it is cheaper and easier to produce and distribute a good e-book than it is to produce a good paper book. They are also a more disposible product than, say, a hardback book. All this says to me in makes sense to price them lower.

Some feel that publishers are destined to repeat the failures of the recording and motion picture industries by fighting digital content rather than embracing it. Do you agree?

It's very possible. But I also think that money talks very loudly in these cases, and the data show that the market for e-books is growing by leaps and bounds, especially with the development of the new generation of personal reading devices like the Kindle.

Why do you think so many publishers fear e-books?

Traditional publishers have a multi-billion dollar investment in the production and distribution of paper books. They operate within a system that has been refined for at least the last 100 years. Frankly, it would be surprising if they weren't resistant to change.

You have quite a wide variety of genres represented at BVC. How do you choose your authors?

We need a wide variety of books because we hope to appeal to the full diversity of the reading public. Our authors must all be professionals, that is, they must have at least one book published with a traditional advance-and-royalty paying publisher. Other than that, they have to have the time to volunteer to help with the work of BVC. We operate on what might best be described as a shoestring, so everyone has to pitch in.

How has your experience dealing with Amazon been?

From the beginning, Amazon has proved to be expert at designing infrastructures to get books into the hands of readers. The Kindle support infrastructure is as seamless and easy to use as the system for ordering paper books

How could Amazon improve the Kindle experience, either for readers, authors or publishers?

Zettel: For authors and publishers, I'd say perhaps some additional support could be available for formatting books for the Kindle. For readers, I'd like it to be a little easier to browse new titles and authors, For readers, I'd like it to be a little easier to browse new titles and authors, beyond the «you might like» and «also bought» options.