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Is ePublishing for You?A Q& A on this “Brave New Format”

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When Stephen King’s novella Riding the Bullet was downloaded by
400,000 people in a matter of days, it was news. Publishers, however, had
special reason to take notice. What this phenomenon told them was that
there are 400,000 people out there who know how to read eBooks, or are at
least willing to learn. That revelation quickly added electronic
production and delivery to the list of viable publishing options.

But what exactly is ePublishing? What are its advantages and
challenges? First, let’s define the term: ePublishing is the digitizing of
text, graphics, and photographs. In its digital form, an eBook can be
downloaded to a desktop, a laptop, a palmtop, a handheld device, or some
other sort of computer. The digitized version could be a complete book, a
part of a book, supplementary or updated material, or a special edition
created especially for this interactive medium.

There are clearly advantages of ePublishing. They include:

 

• Cost-effective production

• Ability to get the material to market more quickly

• Ability to update material more quickly, easily, and often

• Interactivity, including searchability, bookmarking, linking,
etc.

 

ePublishing also is of special interest to publishers who want to test
materials, even though interest in an electronic document does not
necessarily indicate interest in a printed form. It also is an interesting
option to publishers who do not want to compete with their traditional
channels, such as their distributors, wholesalers, or bookstores. They can
create new documents or products to be sold only from their sites. This is
not unlike computer manufacturers who sell certain models through retail
computer stores and other models, with different features, directly.

If you’re considering ePublishing, here are some of the questions to
ask as you evaluate viability:

How time-sensitive is this material?<FONT
face=Geneva,Arial> If your
books or materials offer information that people want right now,
ePublishing can be the perfect vehicle for delivering it. For instance,
Cliffs Notes now sells its popular guides online at www.cliffnotes.com.
Imagine that it’s midnight and your paper on Moby Dick is due the
next day. Just how much would you pay for a Cliffs Notes at that point?

How often does this material change? ePublishing is especially
good for books, reports, etc., that change frequently. It is best handled
on a site where you are able to upload and download the information
easily.

Is the audience for the material likely to use computers or to feel
comfortable reading from a computer? Are these users more likely to have a
desktop, laptop, or handheld device?
If you’re publishing material for
young children or seniors, ePublishing may not be your first choice. On
the other hand, if your potential readers are extremely mobile or use
computers in their work, it could be an excellent approach. For instance,
Johnny Hamilton of Construction Trades Press is especially interested in
creating electronic documents running on a computer that can be used on
location during construction jobs.

If your audience indeed is computer-comfortable, think about what formats will make the most sense. Among the options are:

Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format):More than 165
million copies of Adobe’s free Acrobat Reader have been downloaded, so
many people know how to use this technology. It produces a document that
looks just like the printed version, maintaining quality and consistency.
Publishers are also quite comfortable with this format, because many of
them are already using it to produce camera-ready versions of their books
for print production. Images are easy to include.

HTML/XML: HTML is easy to read—anyone who has a browser (which
are free) can do so—and the tools to create it are free. It also is
relatively easy to create. HTML cannot be easily protected from theft.
Images must be included as .GIF or .JPG (.JPEG) files only. The basis of
the developing open eBook format, XML eventually will offer the
flexibility for conversion into a number of formats. Currently encryption
is still an issue.

Microsoft Reader: Microsoft’s ClearType technology offers
easy-to-read black text on a white background. The type size can even be
adjusted on the fly. Images can be included sparingly. The format is now
available on PocketPC handhelds and will be available for desktop and
laptop computers in late Summer 2000. Although you can offer MS Reader
editions from your site, encrypted versions will initially only be
available through Barnes & Noble and Ingram.

Rocket eBook/Softbook: There are far fewer dedicated electronic
reading devices than PalmPilots or copies of Adobe’s Reader. The Rocket
eBook seems to be the electronic reader of choice. It uses HTML for its
formatting, and can include sound. You can sell unencrypted Rocket eBook
editions from your site.

PalmPilot: There are more than 7 million PalmPilots users, many
of whom do read from their Pilots. There are a variety of Palm document
formats, including PRC and DOC. They can be encrypted but most are not. No
images are possible.

Text/Word Processing: Text versions can come in various formats,
from RTF (Rich Text Format), to Microsoft Word, to WordPerfect, to MS-DOS
Text (also known as ASCII). Of all these options, RTF and MS-DOS Text are
probably the best because they are the most generic. Almost any word
processor can read RTF, and it includes formatting such as bold and
italic. MS-DOS Text drops formatting, but can be read by nearly every
program. Images can only be included in the higher end formats. Word and
WordPerfect provide more formatting options, but either you need to pick a
version that everyone has, or choose a lowest common denominator that may
not give you the formatting options you wanted in the first place. Too, it
is at best difficult to encrypt, or protect, these formats. That means
you’re delivering text that is already keyed in and easy to republish as
someone else’s material, a real issue in these days of global
availability.

<FONT
face=”New York,times New Roman”>

 

How important is it to protect the copyright on this
material?

<FONT
face=”New York,times New Roman”>If this is important—and believe it or
not, it isn’t to all publishers—you’ll want to make sure that the material
is encrypted to protect your digital rights. Although it’s true that
anyone can make photocopies of a printed page and distribute them, the
ability to attach an electronic document to an e-mail and send it to a
hundred of your best friends is far easier. It’s also one of the things
that has held back publishers’ interest in ePublishing. HTML and text
documents are easily copied. PDF documents, Rocket eBook, and Microsoft
Reader files can be encrypted as well as offered unencrypted.

How important is it that the material’s visual presentation is the
same or similar to the printed version’s appearance?
Consider the
benefits and tradeoffs of having your electronic material look just like
its printed equivalent. If this is important to preserve graphic
placements, etc., PDF is likely the best choice for you. HTML, XML, text
options, Rocket eBook, and Microsoft Reader all are formatted
differently.

Can this material be broken into sections and sold “granularly”?<FONT
face=”New York,times New Roman”>If you publish directories or other
materials of which just parts would be of value to readers, you might want
to consider what is sometimes called “granular ePublishing.” It is not
only often better for customers, it is possible to make even more money by
selling your materials this way. It also can be a good way to avoid
competing with your traditional sales channels.

One good example of this is the Audiobook Title Locator, a joint
project of the Audio Publishers Association and R. R. Bowker at
www.audiopub.org/titlelocator.html. In its printed form, this annual is
known as Books on Cassette and costs more than $200. Finding just
those audiobooks of a certain author, publisher, or reader isn’t easy. Yet
in its online edition, purchasers can buy one search, 10 searches, or a
one-year subscription. Although this sort of material is usually delivered
in HTML format, copyright infringement is difficult as each listing must
be accessed individually.

Are there aspects of this document that would be more valuable if it
were interactive?
<FONT
face=”New York,times New Roman”>Hamilton of Construction Trades Press is
preparing his books for electronic release in Adobe PDF format, but he
doesn’t want them to just be the same as the printed document. “It has to
be interactive, or how can I charge them as much as for the printed
version when production costs are so much lower?” he asks. “The electronic
version is much more valuable if people can click from the questions in
the front of the book right to the answers in the back of the book. I
might also offer glossaries, in which users can click right to the
definition from within the text.” Hamilton points out that a publisher
also can link to Web sites for current information, reducing the need for
printed revisions. Adds Hamilton: “It’s a very similar dynamic to a Web
site, in which you’re creating a community and want to have people keep
coming back.”

What is the economic impact of offering books in electronic
format?
<FONT
face=”New York,times New Roman”>Not only are there many ways to produce
and offer eBooks, but the market is so new that costs and prices vary
wildly. Producing electronic versions of your book can vary from nothing
to several hundred dollars, depending upon the complexity of the project
and the way it is going to be offered. There are several sites offering
eBooks that will convert at “no charge”… in exchange for 40% tp{`% of
the sales revenue. Unlike printed editions, once the material has been
converted, there are no additional printing costs. That—and
competition—have driven many publishers and sites to offer books at a 33%
discount. Others charge the same price as the printed edition.

Do I want to sell from my own site or someone else’s site? Many
of the ePublishing services require sales from their sites. You can easily
link to those sites, or you can sell from your own, if you prefer to
maintain control of your intellectual property. While he also has his
eBooks listed with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and the
BookLocker, Wayne Perkins of Hypnotism Education Publishing also sells his
electronic reports and books from his own site at www.wayneperkins.net “They come looking for information about hypnotism, which is what my site
is all about,” he explains. Visitors pay for the materials, then Perkins
ships them by attaching them to an e-mail message. BookZone offers the
option to sell from your own site with the setup of your own payment,
delivery, and sales reporting system, with or without digital rights
protection, and a 16% or 7% fee per download, respectively. Like any
business decision, it behooves each publisher to “work the numbers” and
determine the feasibility of offering each format.

How does ePublishing relate to Print-on-Demand technology? Print-on-Demand is a technology that may indeed have greater impact on
the publishing industry than electronic publishing. Interestingly enough,
the “front end” for POD is the Adobe PDF format, which is currently the
leading ePublishing format. Although the settings must be adjusted
somewhat for optimum presentation in print or in pixels, the synergy
reduces the learning curve—and costs—for publishers.

Can I use ePublishing to test product viability? As the
ePublishing segment of the industry develops, this question arises
frequently. Compared to publishing printed material, producing an eBook is
so cost-effective and quick that many authors and publishers are drawn to
publish electronically first, then go to print as volume increases. Wayne
Perkins was able to take this approach with his hypnotism books. When he
discovered that people were visiting his site to read about how to
hypnotize other people (by a three-to-one margin), he created an eBook
called How to Hypnotize People and Other Living Things. “Between
December 5, when I put the eBook on my site, and January 6, I had 100
orders for that title from my site,” says Perkins. “There is no other
publicity for that title.” Although his new book on publishing eBooks, A Cheap and Easy Guide to Self-Publishing eBooks, is doing very
well at Barnes & Noble, sales at the Barnes & Noble site for the
hypnotism title are modest. Perkins has promoted his site heavily as a
source for information about hypnotism, however. Indeed, promotion is no
less critical for eBooks than for printed ones.

Popularity in electronic format will indicate overall interest in your
information, but a lack of eSales may not necessarily suggest that a book
wouldn’t sell in printed or even audio editions.

Are there any other benefits of ePublishing? When computers
first became popular, there was much talk about how they would save paper.
Now, of course, we know they did quite the opposite, creating more paper
than ever! ePublishing, however, does offer real hope of saving resources.
Take Stephen King’s recent eBook release. Four hundred-thousand copies of
about 60 pages each (not including a much heavier paper stock to produce a
full-color cover) means that, in its debut on the Internet, the eBook
Riding the Bullet saved more than 24 million pages in its first 24
hours, which roughly equates to 6,700 trees. With the rapid disintegration
of rain forests worldwide in the last half of the 20th century, eBooks
offer an attractive, environmentally conscious alternative in helping to
create and maintain a better-balanced, natural world.

Conclusion

While today ePublishing is still new territory for many publishers, it
won’t be long before purchasers will be able to browse a book “automat”
from which they will buy the format that works best for them. Just as
movie studios now decide whether to initially release a film into theatres
first then into video, straight to video, or right to television,
publishers will have many options for serving their customers. That’s good
for publishers, authors, and readers.

Mary Westheimer is CEO of BookZone, the largest provider of Internet
hosting, design, development, and promotion services for the publishing
industry. BookZone offers granular and full-document ePublishing systems,
including digital rights protection. For more information, contact
BookZone at epub@bookzone.com and 800/536-6162 (480/481-9737 in
Arizona).

 

This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor August, 2000, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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