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Local Events Go Global
Barbara R ther -- 6/26/00
Book Passage invites the world to "Meet the Authors" on its live webcast

Buzz Aldrin's webcast
blasts off July 6.
Book Passage, Corte Madera, Calif., has just updated the meaning of "meet the author." The store's new program Book Passage Live! has begun to webcast selected author events in real time. The program can be accessed directly from the Book Passage Web site, at www.bookpassage.com/webcast. Apple Quicktime 4.0 is needed to view the webcast. Apple Quicktime is available as a free download.
A large Marin County independent and 1997 PW Bookseller of the Year, Book Passage has long been known for its intensive events schedule, hosting authors almost every day. According to co-owner Bill Petrocelli, the store is delighted to have a way to bring the flavor and content of the in-store events to a world-wide audience.

Book Passage's first webcast, on May 22, featured Ellen Goodman and Patricia O'Brien, authors of I Know Just What You Mean: The Power of Friendship in Women's Lives (Simon & Schuster). The initial broadcasts went smoothly; figures for numbers of viewers are not yet available. Viewers were invited to submit questions via e-mail, and these questions were added to the question-and-answer period as time permitted. This interactive quality will remain one of the program's centerpieces. Additional webcasts are scheduled through the summer.

The next broadcast is July 6, featuring former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who, in The Return (Forge), teams up again with former Hugo and Nebula Awards nominee John Barnes.

Susi Harris of Harrisigns Graphic Imaging in San Rafael, Calif., was largely responsible for overseeing the technology that makes the program possible. Harris has worked with Book Passage for several years as technical manager of the store's five-year-old Web site, which allows on-line ordering. According to Harris and other store employees, conversations with customers revealed that those who live outside the usual book tour circuit wish they could see their favorite authors live. Book Bytes, an earlier on-line program from Book Passage that presented prerecorded highlights of selected author appearances had whet the audience's appetite for more.

Harris explained, "Though live, on-line author e-mail chats have become a mainstay of publicity departments, we wanted to do something different. Live webcasts have, up to now, been used mainly by the music and television industry We believe Book Passage is the first store to begin webcasting authors."

Technical considerations have posed some challenges for both the store and designer. Video quality of the webcasts is enhanced by having a DSL line, but one is not required. Since the store's server would have limited the number of viewers, Book Passage hired Akamai, a larger server, which can accommodate unlimited numbers of viewers. Since the evening appearance times on the West Coast means late-night broadcast times for East Coast viewers, some programs may be re-run at later dates. Viewers will not be able to record the broadcasts.

Bill Petrocelli, who owns the store with his wife, Elaine, told PW, "We will no doubt think of other ways to use this technology as time g s on, but the point for us has always been selling books. We are not as interested in using these broadcasts as celebrity appearances in their own right, but as events that draw attention ultimately to the books being presented."
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