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In this e-everything age, it's a testament to tradition that bound books have retained their popularity. The selection process, however, is getting more high-tech every day. In 1994, David Knight, 39, created yet another way to keep avid readers abreast of the literary world with BookTalk, his Sherman Oaks, California, book-preview telephone line. Authors and publishers pay to record book information, and bibliophiles pay the price of the call to hear it. Readers can "meet" renowned authors, but bookstores and publishers also use the number for promotional tie-ins, and TV and radio producers call it to rate authors' personalities before booking them. Now it's Knight's turn to tell how (818)788-9722 is reaping six-figure revenues.
How did BookTalk come to be?
I started a line in 1991 where you could listen to people discuss fitness and diet issues. [In 1994,] I went to a Deepak Chopra book-signing and wanted to speak with him, but it wasn't appropriate to ask questions with 50 people behind me. When I left, it clicked: "I should incorporate authors."
It wasn't just a vehicle to meet your favorite authors?
[Laughs.] Well, maybe that, too. [And yes, he met Chopra.]
You were already equipped to start BookTalk, but how much capital is necessary for someone who isn't?
There's a large range of features and services for voice applications--costing from a few thousand dollars to $100,000. But I started [the health line] with $50,000.
Did you conduct market research before launching BookTalk?
The health line [gave] me an idea of whether people would call to listen to any kind of content. The only thing similar was Moviefone, and it had been successful. I thought, "I'm a huge book-lover, and I'm sure others have the same desire." Publishers thought the concept sounded interesting, but anything new is cause for concern. They gave it a shot, though. I started with health-related books, but now I've [recorded] previews for more than 1,500 authors from 300 publishers.
How do you protect the concept from copycats, and how will you expand it?
You can't really protect voice applications or the concept of hearing authors. But I've established a rapport with all the major publishers, so it would be pretty difficult for someone else to start a book line, although I'd welcome some competition to help promote the concept. My BookTalk column is now syndicated, so once we're the industry standard, we're going to hook up a fulfillment service and make recordings available on the Web. I want to con-tinue the phone side, though, because I like the idea of [customers] being on their sofas, able to go from one preview to the next in a very relaxed way.