How many of you have gotten tired and frustrated with the politics and bullshit of your profession to the point where you wish you could start your own company? Well, Ian Christe did just that. After writing for many publications, and writing the metal history Sound of the Beast for HarperCollins and the Van Halen history Everybody Wants Some for Wiley, Christe launched his own publishing company, Bazillion Points. Bazillion is a true D.I.Y. metal press, with titles such as the photographic thrash history Murder in the Front Row; Metalion, the compilation volume of the legendary Slayer magazine; Hellbent For Cooking, which we’ve also covered here on MadeLoud (see our interview with author Annick Giroux); and Mean Deviation, the chronicle of progressive metal by Jeff Wagner. Just to name a few.
Both Ian and I both put out books about metal at about the same time - Sound of the Beast and Bang Your Head - and funny enough we’ve never been in contact before until now. So here he tells us about the history of Bazillion Points, D.I.Y. publishing, and where the company, and music books, could be headed in the future.
How did you make the transition from working at magazines, to writing a book for Harper Collins, to actually starting your own publishing company?
I started writing out of necessity, launching a fanzine in the 1980s. That led to writing for music magazines like AP, Your Flesh, and many others that no longer exist. With the freedom to experiment that writing about music offers, I developed as a writer and eventually made it into newsstand standards like Wired, Popular Mechanics, Spin, and the Chicago Reader. Eventually I turned back around to where I started, because in the 1990s nobody was paying any attention to metal. Metal saved my life; I felt like it deserved a proper history like Sound of the Beast, and then I just continued that streak, filling in the blanks by publishing necessary works like Daniel Ekeroth's Swedish Death Metal and Tom Gabriel Fisher's Only Death Is Real.
Cover of Swedish Death Metal by Daniel Ekeroth
Did you learn anything from writing for publications, and for writing for HarperCollins and Wiley, that you were able to apply to starting your own publishing company?
Writing a book for HarperCollins, I learned everything about publishing from copyediting to photo clearances to design to publicity. Luckily for me, my editor was extremely lazy and was only too happy to let me in on the work. I know it's a funny start, but I'm really glad I was given the chance to be so involved with Sound of the Beast. Most corporate editors shut the authors out and still do nothing, ha ha!
Were you able to start your business from the success of Sound of the Beast? Did the book do well enough you could launch your own business?
Not at all - I went through some serious hardship to complete Sound of the Beast. At the end of four years, I was drained, zombified, exhausted, and in debt. But I'm resourceful, I can get by and live very well on very little money. I was able to sock away what little I got from my Van Halen book and set the presses rolling on Swedish Death Metal in 2008. Everything has grown from there, one book at a time.
How much of running Bazillion Points has been learning as you do it, and learning as you go?
All of it. I'm a big believer in teaching yourself what you need to know and pressing forward as best you can. The D.I.Y. approach to life is the only way to go. I got a lot out of school, but as far as the work of running a publishing company on a daily basis? Trial by fire! But I had lots and lots of experiences in life that led up to this - being in bands, releasing music, going on tour, performing around the world. I picked up a lot of random knowledge along the way like a sponge, and now I get to use it all.
The first book I picked up was Andy McCoy's Sheriff McCoy, which was tough because it involved translating a book from Finnish. One of my goals in launching Bazillion Points was to work with smart, funny people like Ike, Daniel Ekeroth, Annick Giroux, and all the others. Writing is such solitary work. It's great to be in contact with collaborators like Wes Benscoter or get a piece by Henry Rollins to edit. The work is still intense, but I enjoy sharing it now.
"Black Pudding and Squid in Its Own Ink w/Hashish Garnish, from Simon of THE LAMP OF THOTH"
When putting out a title, how much do you normally do for a first printing, and how many copies do you normally need to sell of an average title to break even and make royalties?
That's different for every book, but so far I think all of our books have been at least slightly successful, if not wildly so. Otherwise, Bazillion Points wouldn't exist. In five years, we've gone from one book to publishing the best books ever written about death metal, black metal, hardcore punk, AC/DC and Metallica. These have been crazy, relentless years. And basically I'm publishing the books I want to read myself.
With the recession, so much media has been in trouble, with magazines going out of business left and right. In today’s day and age, where paper and ink can cost a fortune, does it still make sense to keep doing physical books, or do you feel there will come a day where Bazillion Points will do all their books as downloads?
The new iPad has 2048 pixels on its longest side. A Bazillion Points book like Only Death Is Real or Murder in Front Row is about 4000 ink dots in height. So there's really no comparison, [and] print quality still kills screen quality. If you want to see every wrinkle in Cliff Burton's snarl, pick up Murder in the Front Row. If you want to see a pixelated digital impression of a photo of Cliff Burton, the Internet is probably fine for you. Our non-fiction books are available in e-book format. In those cases, our printed copies are still a better keepsake. We will keep printing books as long as readers want them, rest assured! The Internet is still where only a minority of books are sold.
Will you put out your own books through Bazillion Points, or will you continue to work with the major publishers for your own titles?
I'm working on a biography of Chuck Schuldiner of Death, interviewing everyone who ever played in a band with him, met him after a show, and his mailman. I want to put that out through Bazillion Points because I want it to be a high quality monument to a guy I consider one of the most original musicians ever to play metal. Chuck and his fans deserve a really good book, and at this point Bazillion Points is the place to go for obsessive hellbent authors looking to get their books published in deluxe format with a minimum of interference.
How has the recession affected Bazillion Points?
The latest recession officially began in September 2008. Our first book, Swedish Death Metal, came back from press in July 2008. Basically, we've been fighting an uphill battle all along, in the worst possible circumstances. If there's an economist out there who wants to predict sunshine and bags of gold, great, but this is the hand I've been dealt and I'm okay with that. I definitely think people appreciate the over-the-top depth and quality of our books enough to plunk down $25-$30 for copies of all of them.
Mean Deviation: Four Decades of Progressive Metal author Jeff Wagner
There’s been a nice resurgence of rock books recently. Do you feel there will be more metal books to come, and the market will stay strong for them?
When every member of Mötley Crüe now has multiple books, you know the rock bio is facing a glut and some trouble is up ahead. You know the score — when our books were released back around 2003, there was nothing. Now there's a good variety, but also a lot of second rate slop that degrades the hard-fought advances metal books have made in the past decade.
Where do you see things headed for Bazillion Points in the future?
I'd like to see more of our books in translation. Albert Mudrian's Eligiendo Muerte (Choosing Death) is also available in Argentina now. Jeff Wagner's progressive metal history is out in Italian. And Daniel Ekeroth's Swedish Death Metal should soon be on shelves in France. That's all very exciting. The Hellhammer book really needs to be released in German, though. In the meantime, our next round of books expands the metal universe a little bit, with Mike McPadden's Heavy Metal Movies, Laina Dawes' What Are You Doing Here?, and Dianna Dilworth's Mellodrama: The Mellotron Story. So I see things headed to the madhouse, for a big loud book-reading party. What else? Knowledge is king, and pretty soon our readers will take over the world. They're the best.