Next Stop, Contentville
Calvin Reid -- 1/15/01

Chatting with several PW editors at an informal luncheon at the Contentville headquarters in midtown Manhattan, Steve Brill, founder of Brill's Content and Contentville and chairman of the newly created Primedia subsidiary Media Central, described business at the Web site as "pretty good" while also conceding that learning how to make an e-commerce site profitable was "frustrating." is the e-commerce counterpart to Brill's Content, a monthly journal that examines the business and practice of journalism., which started last year (News, Feb. 7, 2000), offers a mix of content for sale, supplemented by recommendations from a long list of well-known authors, journalists, independent booksellers (more than 60), agents and others. The site sells everything from books (including e-books) and magazine subscriptions to legal documents, newsletters, screenplays and dissertations. Last week, Brill announced a deal that integrates his consumer magazine and the Contentville holdings with Primedia's B2B media outlets to create Media Central, a subsidiary media unit of Primedia.

Both Contentville and the Brill's Web site ( have been redesigned. Brill said traffic on the Contentville site was "growing, but slowly," and said the site was making arrangements with other sites to set up Contentville stores. Despite the merger with Primedia, there were no layoffs at Contentville; "we're a private company and that helped us," said Brill. The site has approximately 30 to 40 employees, with a few staffers working for both the BC and the Contentville sites

Contentville is staffed by a lot of converted old-media professionals. Most of the editorial staff, including editor-in-chief David Kuhn, executive editor Heather Byer, and senior v-p and e-publisher Annik LaFarge, have extensive book publishing backgrounds. "We started the site with print people," said Kuhn, "and added the Web people later." And unlike, which solicits customer reviews, the directors of Contentville see the site as a filter for "high editorial quality," said Kuhn.

Books, magazine subscriptions and dissertations account for the bulk of sales right now, said Kuhn. Contentville plans to sell a selection of e-books to be fulfilled by Lightning Source, as well as publish 20 to 30 original e-books a year, in addition to print-on-demand titles.

Its list includes the site's first e-book, Survivor: The Ultimate Game, and will also feature works by Francine Prose and James Ellroy. Contentville has an agreement with crime and mystery publisher Otto Penzler for a series of e-books. The site also intends to team up with Lingua Franca, the academic muckraker, to publish The Real Guide to Graduate School in two volumes (humanities and social sciences) as a print and e-book. To attract consumers, the e-book will be available for only $1.50 if the print edition is bought online.

The wildly diverse content offered by the site seems to attract readers looking for "lots of unusual information," said LaFarge. "Publishers will begin to use us. We're a source of word-of-mouth information on books," she said.