< back to full list of articles
Cyber-Publishing:The Future Is Now

or Article Tags

One of the past decade’s most exciting developments for writers
(and independent publishers) is the emergence of cyber-publishing: the
electronic or e-book. New material is leaping from the computer into
cyberspace, making it possible for a writer or publisher to find a larger
audience than was ever dreamed of. E-publishing has become a tantalizing
possibility for independent and neophyte publishers.

  Cyber-publishing has been around since 1971 when Michael Hart at
the University of Illinois instituted Project Gutenberg, some 30 years
after the idea of electronic publishing appeared in science fiction
stories. In the years since, Project Gutenberg has listed over 10,000
books in digital format, free for downloading.

  In its truest form, cyber-publication, or electronic publication, is
meant for reading on a screen. It takes a variety of forms. short forms
like online articles found on Web sites or in electronic newsletters; and
longer or book-length forms, published on diskette or CD-ROM, published in
Portable Document Format (PDF), HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language), or a
proprietary variant for hand-held devices, or published on the World Wide
Web for downloading onto your desktop or your handheld device.

 E-Publishers   Is electronic book publishing an empty or near empty field? Not hardly.
John Rutledge, of Dead End Street Publications, writes, . There are
currently more than 100 royalty-paying e-publishers, a number that doubled
every quarter during 1999.. In addition, you can also find non-royalty
publishers or companies where publishing is a cooperative venture.

  Some are strictly e-book publishers. Their editions may be offered
as downloads to a computer or reading device or on diskettes. Others, such
as The Fiction Works, publish audio editions as well as e-books. Still
others publish on CD-ROM; some have print editions available too.

  1st Books sells both POD (Print-on-Demand) and electronic books.
Dark Star Publications publishes downloadable versions of their books in
PDF or HTML formats. Most titles are also available on CD-ROM in PDF
format, and PalmPilot users may special order a TXT file. Microsoft is
entering the arena with the Microsoft Reader and its own proprietary
software (for Windows-based PCs and laptops), in a partnership with Barnes & Noble and its online counterparts.

  The price of the hand-held readers will undoubtedly have
considerable effect on the preferred format. While the Everybook Dedicated
Reader boasts huge storage and has a screen that can display color, text,
graphics, mathematics, and illustrations, it also carries a $1,500 price
tag, which includes a dictionary, thesaurus, map, and Bible. Everybook is
now in partnership with Adobe, publishing in PDF.

  So long as prices for the various hand-held reading devices remain
high, cost is a barrier for widest acceptance of electronic books. However
prices of the devices are coming down and the capabilities are coming

 Formats   As documents for screen reading, e-books must be encoded in an appropriate
format. Currently the two primary formats for e-books are PDF (portable
document format) and HTML. So far, PDF has been the format of choice
for e-books. However discussions grow very heated over the PDF vs. HTML
option. To illustrate the ferment of the format issue, Gemini Books offers
books in both print (trade paperback) and e-versions. Buyers may choose
to receive by e-mail in either PDF or RTF (Rich Text Format) or on diskette
as PDF or RTF. Dead End Street doesn’t offer print versions, but
in PDF on CD-ROM, or in Rocket eBook or AportisDoc versions.<B
style=”mso-bidi-font-weight: normal”>As I mentioned, the Fiction
Works produces audio books in addition to e-books. This is an interesting
development as some predict e-books of the future will incorporate sound,
graphics, and movie elements.

  The concepts in back of each type of formatting are quite different
and would affect the choice. The well-known capability of PDF and its
relation to the appearance of the printed page renders it suitable in some
cases where HTML is deficient, notably when graphics are incorporated.
HTML, well known for Web page design, is considered by many to be more
easily read. A further virtue is that HTML is not a proprietary

  Books in AportisDoc are available for the Palms readers. Peanut Press, recently acquired
by NetLibrary.com, likewise uses a proprietary markup language involving
HTML and Java (their books are encrypted). Booklocker.com says 95%
of the books they sell are in PDF format, making them readable across
all platforms, both Macs and PCs. While the argument rages over which
is the better standard, it. s worth noting that Project Gutenberg. s
offerings and ElecBook. s free offerings are in PDF. However
work (by volunteers) is underway to code Project Gutenberg titles in

  While the Rocket eBook can be used to read HTML or PDF files (downloaded
from one. s own computer, for example), a RocketEdition (i.e.,
a book produced for reading on an eBook) is encoded in a proprietary
format which, like the formats used by Peanut Press and others, encrypts
the document to prevent unlicensed copying and hence the bootlegging of
illegal copies.

  An Open eBook (OEB) standard is under development. The goal of this
standard is to enable the publisher to format a title once and then the
content will be compatible with a wide variety of reading devices. This
could insure that the content will be available in years to come,
regardless of the changes in the reader devices. The standard has not yet
been fully developed nor generally accepted.

  Several working in the field are urging the adoption of XML/SGML
(Extensible Markup Language), a more highly structured relative of HTML,
as a preferred format. The World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, has
reformulated HTML 4.0 as XML, calling the result

 Audience   Among the individual potential buyers of e-books, the fiction readers. primarily
consumers of romance and science fiction. tend to be
voracious. Print publishers of romance know that this group comprises avid
readers, going for quantity. Their e-book counterparts recognize this and
price accordingly, an equivalent of disposable books.

  The nonfiction readers tend to be serious readers, relying heavily
on text to maintain position in their work. For doctors, lawyers, and
other professionals, the currency of the material can be very attractive.
For students, e-books greatly lighten the physical load of carrying
necessary texts and the like.

  Some publishers see a very strong school market as e-books
availability widens. Further, the potential library market also should not
be overlooked. A recent article by Frank Curry in the <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>New York Times noted that the
library of the University of Texas has a $1 million budget for digital
materials and a 6,000-title collection of digital books. With a prospect
like that and the assurance that the university is not an isolated
phenomenon, we will surely see more companies like netLibrary which is a
seller of collections of digital books to libraries.

 Pricing   Currently two schools of thought exist on pricing e-books.
Independent publishers, especially those who market directly to their end
customers or through e-book stores, tend to offer product at lower costs,
contending that the savings resulting from not needing an extensive
inventory and the lower printing and distribution costs should reflect in
lower prices for e-books. Large mainstream publishers do not tend to sell
their e-versions at substantially lower cost.

  More typical prices on e-books run about $4 to $7 for a downloaded copy (slightly more
if offered on diskette or CD-ROM). NuvoMedia. s RocketEditions from
large publishers, on the other hand, don. t differ much from
print editions. (Case in point: Laura Esquivel. s <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Like Water for Chocolate lists at
$11.95 in trade paperback. The RocketEdition is likewise marked at
$11.95.) A few e-book publishers allow for download of their titles at no

 Dissemination   An appealing advantage is the ease of wider distribution. Books may be
ordered from the publisher (on CD-ROM or diskette) or downloaded. Bookstores
are beginning to offer electronic books, either on-site or through
Web purchase (or both). Barnes & Noble has a relationship with NuvoMedia
(currently a major force in the hand-held devices) for selling (and
downloading) Rocket eBooks in stores and a similar arrangement with GlassBooks
was announced in February. Powell. s Books of Portland, Oregon,
offers RocketEditions. The Tattered Cover of Denver, Colorado, provides a
channel for distribution of e-books.

  The question then becomes . Is NuvoMedia (Rocket) a distributor or a
device-manufacturer?. RocketEditions are downloadable <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>only to the Rocket eBook device.
(Other formats are, however, readable on the Rocket.) NuvoMedia requires a
discount comparable to print wholesalers for books to be issued in their
format. Will the traditional discounting/pricing practices of print
publishing become the norm for e-publishing? If the traditional norms
remain, they will reduce much of the appeal of e-books for buyers.

 Advantages of
E-Pubbing   The advantages of e-pubbing are attractive. The cost of production
is greatly reduced over paper and ink production, though either format
would still call for editing and design. (The fact that a book is easily
produced does not reduce the necessity for careful and thorough editing.)
E-publishing extends the life of a book. Another advantage is a smaller
investment in inventory. Electronic storage is much less expensive than
physical, paper storage, and hence the impetus to scrap it or declare it
out-of-print declines. Since the costs of production are so much smaller,
a publisher may decide to publish a book that might not have otherwise
seemed to be likely to earn back its original investment. E-books are
easily updated, a strong point for books where currency is crucial. (A
major argument for the OeB format and HTML is that updating is much
simpler and faster than with PDF.)  Disadvantages   E-publishing should not be viewed as a panacea for small
publishers; it is simply another mode for publishing. The problems of
promoting print books are still there. The number of publications
(including ForeWord magazine
and Publishers Weekly as well
as numerous online publications) reviewing e-books is growing. Yet the
number of e-book sales is still a relatively small portion of books sold.

  The lower cost of production is offset by the increased effort to
promote a book. Further, a book may need to be done in several
formats:  HTML or XML/SGML, PDF, or
in one of the proprietary formats for use in particular devices. None of
the writers I. ve read say anything about the cost of coding a book for
e-publications, and that. s another step beyond layout

 Conclusion   While these are obstacles, they are not insurmountable. They do suggest
that launching into e-book publication is not as simple as going into
print publication. As the reading devices improve their capabilities and
come down in price and the number of titles increases, we should see an
expanding audience. The portability of e-books in quantity is appealing.
The ease with which reference books can be updated is also attractive.
E-books are here, and it. s worth investigating whether
producing them is a good decision for your company. The field is growing
and rapidly changing. Keep your eyes and ears open.

style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Patricia J. Bell is the author of . The Prepublishing
Handbook: What you should know BEFORE you publish your first book..
(Cat. s-paw Press, Eden Prairie, MN 55347). <A

style=”mso-bidi-font-weight: normal”>Sidebar

 Explore E-Publishing To learn more,
visit: The eBook Network:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
eBook Connections:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
Open eBook standards:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
Impressions Book and Journal Services,
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>   <A
href=”http://www.impressions.com”>http://www.impressions.com (An
excellent FAQ on OEB and XML
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>   is located
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>   and <A

Discussion lists
of pertinence:

style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>   Subscribe:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A

discussion lists may be found at the onelist.com site (<A
href=”http://www.onelist.com/)”>http://www.onelist.com/). Register or
log in and select a list to join.
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>   e-authors (<A
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>   EBook Talk (<A
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>   e-pub (<A
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>   Ind-e-pub List (<A

e-publications on the e-book industry
(both are free

eBooknet Weekly News
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>   (To subscribe:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  Go to <A
eBC. s <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>ePub Market Update
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>   (Send a blank e-mail to <A
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>   visit the site, <A

 URLs of companies mentioned in the
accompanying article: 1st Books:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
Dark Star Publications:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
Dead End Street Publications:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
The Fiction Works:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
Gemini Books:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
Microsoft Reader:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
NuvoMedia, Inc. (Rocket Ebooks):<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
Peanut Press:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
The Tattered Cover. s publishing
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>   <A

For free
downloadable books:

Gutenberg:  <A
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>   (Elecbooks also sells books
on CD-ROM.)
Library:  <A
For the Palm
community:  <A
ElecBook Classics:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <A
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt; mso-fareast-font-family: ‘ New Roman’; mso-bidi-font-family: ‘ New Roman’; mso-ansi-language: EN-US; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA”><SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>   (Hundreds of classic titles
to download at no cost)

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

Connect With Us

1020 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Suite 204 Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
P: 310-546-1818 F: 310-546-3939 E: info@IBPA-online.org
© Independent Book Publishers Association