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January in July

Who says Canadians are boring? Last week, at Vancouver’s Voda (the newest cool nightclub up there) Linda Richards and her life partner David Middleton sipped BlueCoupe Martinis with 200 or so local media mavens and lookers on. The occasion? The launch of BlueCoupe.com, a music-review site with the same premise as the duo’s thriving Januarymagazine.com JanuaryMagazine.com. January was launched at the end of 1997, with no “profit center but lots of passion for books and authors.” Two years later, this site is landing face-to-face interviews with best-selling authors (Martin Amis, Tom Robbins, David Sedaris and so on) 15,000 unique visitors daily and enough revenue to employ four full-timers and 20 some freelancers. The day after the BlueCoupe bash (not too early), we asked Linda, how she’s managed to get so far on so little.–SJ

Seattle24x7.com: Linda, why Januarymagazine.com?
Richards: After writing a few computer books, like Web Graphics for Dummies and The Canadian Guide to the Internet, I had ideas about what would make for a successful website, and a lot of these ideas were not being implemented. So I had this desire to test my ideas. And David [graphic artist and photographer] and I were doing a lot of author interviews for magazines and newspapers, and we were frustrated with the mainstream media coverage of books and authors.
Very early on, something happened that made us realize we had something. We were the “Yahoo Site of the Day” and then the “Netscape Site of the Day.” And we went from having 50 visitors a day to 15,000. And we also got feedback from writers, saying “we want to be a part of this.” We told all of them there was no money in this. And some of them, who were published authors, joined us anyway because they had the same frustrations we had.

Seattle24x7.com: Hadn’t you heard of Amazon.com?
Richards: Of course, we had. But we didn’t care. Actually, we don’t consider Amazon a competitor. People go to Amazon to buy books. They don’t go there for objective, critical information on books and authors.

Seattle24x7.com: What’s some Internet conventional wisdom you’ve disproved?
Richards: One of the popular ideas is that online writing needs to be a bunch of sound bites. We, however, think our readers are really intelligent. So we publish author interviews as long as 15,000 words. Not everybody will read these. But if you’re a fan of that author, or you know someone who is, you’re going to see this as a treasure. Because we’re on the web, we don’t have to limit ourselves to 400-word interviews. And our readers love this.

Seattle24x7.com: You’re no longer freelancing to fund the business. Where’s the money coming from?
Richards: Our initial investment was a whopping very little, because David and I created the site. Plus we weren’t paying our freelancers.
Then in March 1999, I was talking at a book publishers’ luncheon. There was an authors’ agent in the audience, Robert Mackwood, who liked what I said and also really loved the site. He helped us rethink in a way that did not alter our work. First thing he did was to get money from licensing our content to other sites, such as Chapters.ca (the largest Canadian online bookseller) and Youth Stream Media.

Even though advertisers approach us, we turn them down because we think it interferes with the integrity of our content. But in June 1999, we started our “Book of the Week Contest,” which is sponsored by one book publisher who gives away five copies of the featured book. Our readers enter their email address, and we have a random weekly drawing. Publishers give us money for that spot, which is separate from the rest of the site, and they’ve been lining up to get it. That’s why we recently hired a salesperson.

Seattle24x7.com: How are you marketing the site?
Richards: We still get quite a bit of traffic from our search-engine listings. And between 1,000 to 2,000 other websites now list us as a source of book reviews, including Slate.com and Arts & Letters Daily. We’re often listed right along with The New York Times Book Review, which is really thrilling.

I guess our major source of marketing is the quality of our reviews and interviews. The site is updated daily, and we do at least one feature or interview every week. The interviews, most of which I do, are in person, with original photos taken by David. Most of the authors I interview come to Vancouver on book tours or speaking engagements.

Seattle24x7.com: What’s the toughest interview you’ve done?
Richards: Probably the one with Tom Robbins. In Vancouver, he granted just three press interviews–the BBC, a local TV celebrity and us. Part of the problem with Robbins was that my journalist pals had forewarned me that “he’s terrible; he’ll give you a hard time.” And he was distant at first. Throughout the whole thing, he was kind of poking at me. At the end, I thought, “My God, that didn’t go well at all.” But when we were leaving, he came up to me and took my hand in both of his and said, “thank you so much; it was really good.”

Seattle24x7.com: What’s BlueCoupe.com about?
Richards: We want to see if we can apply the Januarymagazine.com approach to music. To create content for the site, we’re using some of our existing freelancers and hoping to add others. There will be interviews with rock stars, but also less-known musicians in various genres.

The biggest challenge so far has been plugging into the music scene in the same way we’re plugged into the book scene. It’s happening, but it’s been a process. And the rest will come; we’ve got a pretty creative team.

Seattle24x7.com: Unlike most other music sites, BlueCoupe.com isn’t flashy. It doesn’t assault the senses. You don’t even have sound downloads. Why?
Richards: We don’t have to impress potential advertisers. We’re building a content-rich site that will dazzle with its depth and comprehensiveness. Everyone seems to be doing sound streaming or downloads, so that seems kind of boring to us. And the use of FLASH or Java animation can be a little bit masturbatory.

Soula Jones is Content Chief at Seattle24x7.com
The January Grrl
Linda Richards

Email: [email protected]
Birthdate: Oct. 22, 1960
Hometown: Vancouver, BC
Favorite sites: “I’m always looking for something or other, so dogpile.com numbers among my favorites. Also, Arts & Letters Daily (aldaily.com)
Favorite recent books: Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull; Experience by Martin Amis; A Message from Mr. Lazarus by Barbara Lambert.
Typical work day: “Email is always first, followed closely by evaluation of site stats. I simply love to geek on the stats. Then an author or artist interview, which I transcribe myself. I love to hear the cadences of the voices, and I often pick up on things I had missed–meaningful inflections and so on.”
Last vacation: Five whole days this past Easter on Galiano Island (in the Gulf Island chain off the coast of mainland British Columbia). “Lots of our friends in a great old house.”