Thursday, May 21, 2009

Interview with Chamber Four--Part II

Here's the conclusion of our interview with Chamber Four:

Aside debates about the value of ereaders, and clips of other sources discussing the value of ereaders, what type of content are you trying to publish?

Sean: We're really trying to promote the book reviews as a source of book information for readers by readers. The database is growing steadily, and our ambitions for it are big; we'll be importing it to a searchable, cross-referencing database at some point, hopefully soon. We're also planning to launch a digital magazine soon.

Nico: I've always been frustrated with the way book reviews are done. Music and movie reviews are geared toward telling people if the music/movie is good or not, why aren't book reviews the same way? On the blog side, we also post about literature and reading, as well as ebook issues. I think our best posts are the more sprawling, big-picture pieces, because we're all in the midst of figuring out this tectonic shift in a medium that's been stable for almost 600 years, so I find pieces that can encompass the magnitude of that shift to be the most compelling. And while we do repost some big news items, we filter a lot of stuff out: our goal is to keep the lay ereader/literature aficionado informed without overwhelming him or her with the details of all the minutiae of either ereaders or publishing.

Is Chamber Four available for eReaders?

Sean: Right now the whole site is in a blogroll format, which can easily be compiled and added to ereaders through programs such as Calibre. When we launch the magazine it will be available for free in an ereader friendly download, probably as PDFs and ePubs.

As MFA students/graduates, how do you see eReaders changing the way writers try to publish?

Nico: I think the big difference is that anybody can publish their own ebook. One thing we need, as more and more books are published every year, is a filtration system…In a world of digital distribution, hopefully there will be a lot more room for small press books to get a more equivalent share of notoriety because the cost of distribution will be leveled out. For writers, it means that simply getting published will no longer be a goal in and of itself.

Sean: Right, but hopefully writers will remain focused on creating the best art they can. We know good authors will still be good, regardless of the format their books are delivered in.

Nico: Another great thing about digital publishing is that it allows for more experimentation. If we start seeing more ebook-only publishers, their books won't necessarily need to all be 300 pages anymore, and their books won't need to have huge audiences because the costs of production will be much lower.

What is your take on self-publishing?

Nico: I just want to read good books, I don't care where they come from. I think the biggest problem with self-published books is that the good ones can easily be missed.

Sean: The prohibitively steep costs of publishing make things especially difficult for unpublished writers. Self-publishing can help dedicated writers get their stuff out there for all to read, even if a firm won't take a risk on it. eBooks certainly help in this regard. Of course, the volume of poor quality self-publication will likely increase with ebooks (it already has), but like with their deadtree counterparts, if it isn't good, no one will read it anyway.

Currently, your site is ad free. Will that be changing in the future?

Sean: We're going to try our best not to change that. We toyed with ad space, but with our focus toward unbiased reader advocacy, we didn't want a bunch of Kindle and Sony ereader ads popping up all over the place. When the Kindle 2 came out, Amazon gave a 10% cut of any sale to the site that referred the buyer. This caused a weird imbalance in Kindle reviews, despite the fact that in the best light it is no better than its competition. We didn't want to be a part of that.

When does Chamber Four plan to start a literary magazine? How do you hope to distinguish yourself from other literary magazines? How does starting a literary magazine fit into the site's overall mission?

Sean: Our hope is to launch the first issue in the autumn of 2009. Each issue will be available for DRM-free download at no cost. Too often, stuff printed in lit journals tends to read as if it was written on only for other writers, perhaps because they are mostly read by other writers. We want to do something different.

Nico: To a certain extent, it's us putting our money where our mouth is. We think digital publishing is the way of the future, so we're going to get into it, and see what we can do. We're going to have to stay quiet on specifics for now, but the magazine will definitely be reader-centered, like the rest of Chamber Four.

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