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An Interview with Andrew Lipstein, founder of 0s&1s Reads

By launching the 0s&1s Reads website in 2014, Andrew Lipstein has successfully entered the world of digital publishing. 0s&1s Reads has indeed become an important ally to independent publishers and authors, as its main goal is to "distribute digital literature that is truly independent, pro-author, green & above all, ambitious".

Marine Baudoin, in charge of digital at the Book Department of the Cultural services at the French Embassy has met this rising figure of the book industry.

Marine Baudoin (M.B.): In a country where Amazon is predominant and independent bookstores are struggling, it takes a lot of courage to launch a sales website for books. Why and how did you come up with such an idea? And why did you choose 0s&1s Reads for the name of your company?

Andrew Lipstein (A.L.): The idea for 0s&1s originally came to me when I wanted to publish a friend's novel (Victoria Hetherington's I Have To Tell You), and I spoke to a set of small literary publishers. (As an aside, the artist who created the piece I used to make that cover is French.) I learned a lot in those initial conversations—about Digital Rights Management, about Amazon's system, profit allocation—and wanted to construct a system I thought was more fair, and one that would flip the discovery-retail paradigm on its head. Now I curate a small selection of fiction, poetry and magazines, in the hopes that readers will find a new book from their retailer, as opposed to hearing about it beforehand and then going to the retailer for fulfillment. In that vein, of simplicity and of considering the act of selling a digital book in its plainest terms, I named the venture 0s&1s. It's an allusion to binary code; all we do when we sell a book (because we do so DRM-free) is exchange money for a series of zeroes and ones.

M.B.: What do you expect from the indie publishers you work with in terms of book selection? And how do you think they perceive you compared to Amazon?

A.L.: I expect the publisher to select books that represent their unique slice of literary fiction (or, in some cases, nonfiction). Because the publishers I work with are so small, they tend to have real, textured voices—in the authors they choose to work with, in their editorial process, in their cover design, and even marketing. I want to bring that voice to readers, and to not just introduce them to their next book, but to a new publisher they might not have heard of before. I can only hope the publisher sees me in much more favorable terms than Amazon. For one, I (again, hope) that I give them the feeling they're working with an individual, and not a corporation. Another, probably more worthwhile, argument is that starting on Monday, June 1, I'll be giving them 100% of profits, which is something Amazon certainly can't say.

M.B.: Your one price policy gives access to e-books at very low costs. Do you think the growth of the ebook market is in practicing low prices? And to go further, in France, we have the “prix unique du livre.” Do you believe that the future of digital publishing resides in taking such measures?

A.L.: Right now we offer all of our fiction for $6. The price of our magazines and poetry is left up to the publisher. However, starting Monday, when we give publishers 100% of profits, we're also giving all of our publishers complete pricing control. I don't think low prices is a driving force in e-books. It surely doesn't hurt, but I think it's going to take much more to break through the plateau (~20-30% of total sales) of e-books. For one, I think we could make better, cheaper e-readers, as opposed to the trend of making them more complex, more like smart devices. It's a small point, but under a DRM-free system, they wouldn't need internet access. I think getting an ereader in the hands of every reader is an obvious but somehow lost point in the fight to bring more sales to the digital side. I love the prix unique du livre policy, but I don't think it's possible in the US for a few reasons. It's a policy that works when everyone's on board, but doesn't when you can't put it into enforceable. There's nuanced difference in opinion between France and the US as far as books and their impact on culture go, but those differences create largely disparate realities of the respective publishing landscapes.

M.B.: What is the future development of 0s&1s Reads?

A.L.: As I said, we're giving publishers 100% of profits starting on June 1, as well as taking on site sponsors. We'll also be beginning to feature excerpts, as well as expand on our conversation series: the satirical A Bit Contrived, the author blind date Pixelated, and The Art of Commerce, which examines the intersection of literature and the marketplace. We're always getting exciting titles in our pipeline, and looking for ways to vary our offerings, so it's impossible to say what's down the road (or even, what will come in a few months time).