Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Interview With C-SPAN’s BookTV Executive Producer Peter Slen

Few shows have made an impact more than C-SPAN’s BookTV on book publishing. Only Oprah, Today Show, 60 Minutes and Larry King Live come to mind. That’s pretty good company.

Peter Slen joined C-SPAN in 1993, and has been executive producer for Book TV on C-SPAN2 since  2007.  He has also been executive producer of C-SPAN’s  morning call-in interview program “Washington Journal” (2000-2007) and has been a politics producer for the public affairs network. He recently participated in an online interview with Book Marketing Buzz Blog – take a look:

1: What role do you feel C-SPAN has played in promoting the works of authors and selling books?
I think C-SPAN has found a unique sweet spot in the publishing community – and among book lovers -- by providing extensive non-fiction book coverage via BookTV on C-SPAN2.   We try to pack a lot into the two full days every weekend we devote to books: We send our cameras to author talks.  We’re at book fairs.  We’re at panel discussions.  And we produce our own studio-based book programs, such as “AfterWords” and “In Depth,” giving authors a chance to have some more space and breathing room in talking about their books.  And the formula is working: We hear all the time from viewers who love learning about books all weekend by watching BookTV – and we hear from viewers who tell us their primary connection to C-SPAN is through BookTV.  I must say that as unique as we are in providing this TV venue for authors, we’re also very fortunate that we have the backing of the cable industry in providing our programming.

2: How did C-SPAN come to develop its approach of filming author presentations without a talking host? That approach has been C-SPAN’s signature style from the network’s beginning as a non-profit company in 1979 – cover an event from beginning to end and just let the speakers speak.  We stay out of it.  We don’t have the correspondents and “talking hosts” like the news networks.  We don’t intrude with our own voice.   This is the backbone of C-SPAN’s mission – to see everything as it happens from start to finish. And it has served us well for the 13 years BookTV has been around (and C-SPAN’s book efforts before that).  We let the authors talk about their books. Of course, you can hear outside voices on BookTV – callers.  During many of our originally produced programs, viewers can question authors directly by calling in.  The callers are very important to us.

3: As both book publishing and television are undergoing significant changes, where do you see C-SPAN and Book TV five years from now?  We’ve got a history at C-SPAN of innovating, taking risks, and going where the TV trends are.  BookTV is experimenting with new media strategies for connecting books and authors with book lovers.  I don’t have a crystal ball, but five years from now I think it’s safe to safe to say you’ll see more interactivity with our website, booktv.org.  You’ll get more live video on booktv.org.  You’ll see us expanding on mobile devices and broadening social media engagement.  You’ll also see us building beyond the core weekend TV service.  The bottom line: with new technologies, you’ll have more opportunities to watch BookTV when you want to. Of course, as the platforms change and transform with technology, our core mission will remain: Produce interesting and informative non-fiction book programming.

4: Who have been some of your favorite authors/books featured over the years on your program?  I’d rather not offer opinions on our guests (another C-SPAN hallmark: no opinions from us).  But I would note that we are thrilled whenever we hear about books selling well after their authors appear on BookTV.  Publicists and authors give us anecdotes all the time about successes.  Book sales aren’t our mission, but it’s still nice to learn that books get a sales boost after getting on BookTV (the value of being in 90 million cable TV households).  

5: What advice would you have for authors who want to be carried by Book-TV?  Remember that our mission is connected to C-SPAN’s: we look for nonfiction, public policy, history, biography, and science books and authors.  We’ve covered over 9,000 separate programs on books/authors over the years. If you want to get a feel for what we cover, check out our online video archive of programs at booktv.org – capturing virtually all U.S. nonfiction writers of the past decade.  You’ll also see there the schedule for upcoming programs. With 48 hours of programming every weekend, we have lots of room for lots of voices.  So my advice for authors – and publicists:  Know our mission and keep pitching us! BookTV@c-span.org.  And join the over 100,000 book lovers who follow us on twitter, @booktv.

 6: What else can television do to  ensure the public at large is informed about the issues of the day from influential authors? As I mentioned earlier, we’re blessed at C-SPAN and BookTV because we’re a non-profit, funded by the cable industry.  So we don’t have to worry about ratings.  That gives us luxury of providing nonstop educational and informative public affairs TV.  And we can try out new technologies and innovate without worrying about harming revenue.   So our position is different from others.  But the public can easily stay informed about nonfiction books … through BookTV.  For free.  And through your blog.

Brian Feinblum is the chief marketing officer at Planned Television Arts (www.plannedtvarts.com) and blogs daily at http://www.bookmarketingbuzzblog.blogspot.com. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert.

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