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The New Digital

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After you have read this article, we hope you will conclude, as we have, that the future is here. Your opportunities as an independent publisher are rapidly expanding. With sharply diminished investments, these opportunities can be easily seized for your profitable and long-term publication of worthwhile books on any topic reaching well-defined audiences, large or small, throughout the world.
The evidence of this lies in a mystifying array of new names that continue to emerge on the Web and in the industry. They offer online publishing and distribution services, book-at-a-time manufacturing and fulfillment, electronic book devices and resources, and archival and licensing services for electronic publishing. When you add this to the existing book search, cataloging, marketing, and retailing functions already up and running on the Web, we have to say that the millennium is upon us in more ways than one. Sure, some of this may be vaporware-but most of it is solid hard copy with credible sponsorship.
How should an independent publisher adjust its publishing strategies to benefit from these new developments? Of course the editorial verities governing quality and level of content remain unchanged-any old book still won’t do. But what kinds of pricing and business models work? What should you do yourself, and what should you license to others? Is there an over-arching strategy-a choice for the future-that should be basic to everyone’s publishing business model? We think there is, and conclude this article with our view of it.

The New Digitally Driven
Publishing Industry

At this time, publishers are dipping their toes and testing the waters. They are taking piecemeal steps to fit their situations. Most publishers are doing some of the obvious things. They:

  • Create and maintain a Web site for online promotion and order fulfillment
  • Seek out linking exchanges with other Web sites
  • Buy advertising space on Internet gateways such as BookZone
  • Generate media publicity that will drive customers to their Web site

Some publishers have already caught on to the value of letting people browse first chapters or even complete digital versions of their titles to clinch the sale.Others have been taking advantage of Lightning Print’s book-at-a-time printing and fulfillment service. Clearly, interest in this process is gaining momentum. Next month, for example, the Authors Guild, in a partnership with toExcel, will give its prestigious roster of 7,500 published authors the opportunity to republish out-of-print titles via its Backinprint.com Web site. Authors Guild members can republish under toExcel’s Authors Guild Backinprint.com Edition imprint making their books available at all online and brick and mortar stores using the Ingram database. In addition, Borders has teamed up with Sprout to bring demand printing into their superstores. And although we haven’t seen much in the past year since Xerox and Bertelsmann’s announcements at Expo 1998, we can expect to hear more about their demand printing services.The empowerment of author as self-publisher is also one of the most dramatic transformations taking place in the industry. Many PMA members and other independent publishers are in business because, as authors, they chose to find and promote to their own markets. But to do this, you have to set up a business in the conventional way, and commit not only to the promotion, but the cost of investing in inventory and the ongoing task of processing and filling orders.What we are calling “digital demand publishing” eliminates the inventory and reduces business operations to a set of relationships with Internet and electronic publishing services that can access your list in multiple file and graphic formats and combinations. There are several providers who have entered this market in addition to two-year-old toExcel (a company with which both authors of this article are connected). These additional providers include Publishing On Line, NetLibrary, Xlibris, Sprout, and LivePrint, each with a different combination of services. Far from offering serious competition to the independent publisher, however, these new companies can create tremendous leverage for independent publishers if they design their services as a partnership of skills and resources.

Electronic Books

Many university presses have been quick to revive backlist out-of-print titles as well as to introduce low volume new titles using book-at-a-time technology, as have some mainstream publishers-albeit gingerly. Publishers are also exploring electronic book publishing by arrangements with e-book manufacturers such as Rocket Book and Softbook, and by licensing electronic editions of their books to new services such as NetLibrary, which makes complete browsable editions available to libraries and individuals for a fee. The palm-held device sector of the industry is plugging itself into this reader’s traveling convenience and business manager’s quick access to reference resources. Providers are scrambling to acquire digital library rights, and publishers and authors are clutching these rights to their bosoms suspicious of exploitation, sometimes greedy for illusory profits, while some providers’ unrealistic business models are constraining their own markets.
The appearance of the printing press in bookstores is only a matter of time-and not too much time at that. Borders has already announced an arrangement with start-up demand printer Sprout to take and fill book-at-a-time orders in its superstores. The technology for joining bookstore customer to publisher to printer electronically exists in all of its parts. The bookstore computer search monitor is being replaced by kiosks, such as the one marketed by Muze, which taps into its own continuously updated global catalog of music and books in print. It won’t be long before customers will find the book they are interested in, read reviews, browse the entire book on screen (no more coffee stains, torn jackets and dog-eared pages), decide they want it, enter delivery instructions, swipe their credit card, and presto! Within the hour-or by the next day, depending on the three dimensional logistics that intrude-the book is delivered.

Enter the Database
and Content Management Host

Muze, by the way, is one of the few independent database providers to have built a commercial presence designed to serve customers in retail establishments. Launched in the early 90s for the music business, their kiosks will be found increasingly in bookstores. ABA’s BookSense has included Muze’s 1.6 million title database as a primary resource for their BookSense.com national network uniting independent bookseller Web sites in front of a combined backroom order entry and fulfillment operation.It should be clear that central to all of these developments is the ability to “manage content” (i.e., maintain a digital library) in such a way as to be able to reach it or transmit it in diverse ways for diverse purposes. Keeping a central title library whose content and title data is secure and reliably current in its various editions is basic.From this library, the publisher should be able to furnish files in any format-PDF, HTML, XML, ASCII Text-and in any combination of elements-with or without color or graphics, complete or anthologized or extracted, in English or in other languages, indexed generally or for special purposes, and on and on. Special industry protocols should be observed when required-the software industry is on the verge of agreement for a universal protocol governing e-book formats, although it is not clear that all e-book hardware providers are ready to go along. The publishing industry has been working on a DOI (digital object identification) protocol that would tag and identify every text and graphic element making up a single ISBN registered product.As these applications are activated and electronic elements or complete titles are licensed for use, permitted uses will need to be negotiated and monitored and royalties will need to be collected, paid, and accounted for.In addition, publishers will need to be sure that their titles are accurately registered and listed with the Books in Print, Baker & Taylor, Ingram, and Muze databases. Registrations need to be updated for revisions and other editions. Title files need to be available for fulfillment 24 hours a day and seven days a week through the multiple number of demand printing resources that will be attached to Internet and kiosk order entry systems.

The Choice for the Future

The basic choice for any publisher now, large or small, is to incorporate digital title maintenance and content management as a fundamental element in their business model, and to decide whether they will handle it themselves or whether they will outsource it, and if outsourced, with what kind of vendor(s) and with whom.There is a corollary caveat that should relieve you of anxieties over having to make this choice. It can be nonexclusive. It doesn’t have to tie up your rights irrevocably and, unlike retrieving film from your printer, access and applications are easy to accomplish. Moreover, the fees you-or your master distributors in your behalf-will be paying for these services should be well below the distribution costs for print format and inventoried distribution models. The latter will continue to prevail in the “bricks and mortar” marketplace-one which we expect will continue to thrive on both the superstore as well as the independent store levels.Print-on-Demand technology offers publishers an exciting set of new options. POD produces both hardbound and paperback books that are virtually indistinguishable from traditionally manufactured offset titles. True to its name, the technology allows publishers to manufacture and fulfill single copy orders within two days of their placement. Publishers will also need to re-examine their traditional pricing and royalty models. While POD printing costs can be, say, approximately $5 per copy of any 320-page paperback up to 7 1/2 x 9 1/4 trim-twice the inventoried costs-the old 8x formula goes out the window when you notice that all of the distribution overhead, cash tie-up, and inventory handling is wiped out. This is a case where less margin is more profit-and the risk is minimized by the book being manufactured after the order is placed. Serious questions also arise about increasing the author share of royalties, especially with electronic books, as publisher’s risk and investment is reduced. Digital demand publishing is creating a competitive market for authors.Accompanying this article are two boxed sidbar pieces. In one, we have presented for your reference a selection of the most prominent Web site sources of information about developments and services in digital demand publishing. If you spend some time visiting these sites, it becomes clear that a digitally based publishing business model is now part of the scene. Are you with it? In another, we describe and refer you to a toExcel Web site created especially for PMA members and newsletter readers as a follow up to this article. There we hope to create some interaction with you on the whole subject, and we plan to report the outcome in a future issue of the newsletter.
Welcome to the future!Kenzi Sugihara is Publisher of toExcel, an online digital and print-on-demand publishing and distribution service. He was formerly a Publisher and Vice President at Random House and Bantam Doubleday Dell. He can be reached at ksugihara@toexcel.com.

Eugene G. Schwartz is President of Consortium House publishing consultants and a former PMA treasurer and board member. He is an Editor-at-Large with “ForeWord” magazine. He is currently being retained by toExcel as a business development advisor. He can be reached at EugeneGS@aol.com.


Special Offer and Survey Via Web Site
Directed to PMA Members & Newsletter Readers

ToExcel has set up a special Web site for PMA members and newsletter readers-www.toExcel.com/PMAspecial.

  • At the site, you can ask any questions you have about digital demand publishing.
  • You will be able to take part in a joint PMA/toExcel survey about electronic publishing issues, the results of which will be made public.
  • You can take advantage of a special offer toExcel is making to PMA members and newsletter readers for a discount entry into its title maintenance and content management system, and for special discounts against its transaction fees for nonexclusive Internet distribution.

Note: ToExcel’s collaboration with PMA on this site implies no special endorsement by PMA, and you are encouraged to visit other Web sites listed with this article and to inquire of them about their services.

Welcome to the World of Digital Publishing
and Internet Sales & Distribution

This is a fast-changing and fast-growing market. Efforts have been made to insure that this list is representative and up-to-date. We apologize for any inadvertent omissions and invite your comments for future inclusion. All of the addresses below are http\www. listings.

Digital Demand Service Providers

LightningPrint.com: Book-at-a-time printing.
LivePrint.com: Digital publishing services.
NetLibrary.com: Electronic book sales to libraries.
Publishingonline.com: Digital publishing services. Demand distribution.
ToExcel.com: Digital publishing services. Demand distribution.
Xlibris.com: Digital publishing services. Demand distribution.


Glassbook.com: Hardware independent e-book software.
Librius.com: Digital book distribution and reader.
Rocket-ebook.com: Digital book reader and distribution.
Softbook.com: Digital book reader and distribution.

Book Selling

Amazon.com: Internet book sales.
BarnesandNoble.com: Internet book sales.
BookSense.com: ABA booksellers national Internet sales network.
BookSite.com: Bookseller combined Internet sales network.
Borders.com: Internet book sales.
Btebis.com: Baker & Taylor wholesalers site.
FatBrain.com: Professional book sales.
Ingrambook.com: Ingram wholesalers site.
Muze.com: Access to music database, with books to come.
Pubnet.org: AAP Publisher-bookseller electronic purchasing service.
SPDBooks.org: Literary arts small press distribution.

Text Books

BigWords.com: Discount textbook sales.
Courseweb.com: National Association of College Stores (NACS) e-commerce site.
EFollett.com: Follett textbook sales and exchange.
Textbooks.com: Barnes & Noble textbook sales and exchange.

Book Industry Information & Services

BookZone.com: Publishing, Book & Author information site.
BookWeb.org: American Booksellers Association information site.
BookWire.com: Publishers Weekly information site.
ForeWordMagazine.com: Independent publishing news and reviews.
NACS.org: College stores Web site.
Parapublishing.com: Publishing resources.
PMA-Online.org: Publisher marketing & services.
SPANnet.org: Publisher marketing & services.


This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor August, 1999, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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