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Electronic Publishing Alters Very Definition of the Book

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Related links mentioned at end of this New York Times article.

<http://www.barnesandnoble.com/> Barnes & Noble
<http://www.amazon.com/> Amazon.Com
<http://www.bb.com/> BiblioBytes
<news:alt.fan.harlan-ellison>Usenet fan discussion group devoted to
Harlan Ellison's work
<http://www.bookaisle.com/ BookAisle
<http://www.overdrive.com/ OverDrive
<http://www.pulpless.com/> Pulpless Fiction & Nonfiction Too!

For coverage of electronic publishing, several online industry sites are
good sources:

<http://www.bookwire.com/ Bookwire
<http://www.books.com/> The American Bookseller

Der Buchbinder als Architekt des Buches baut eine
Fassade seiner Zeit. Edwin Redslob

Peter Verheyen, Conservation Librarian
Syracuse University Library
Syracuse, NY 13244

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[CyberTimes] [Click here for latest breaking news on MSNBC]

          June 6, 1997                                    [Image]

          [Digital Nation]


          Electronic Publishing Alters
          Very Definition of the Book

          [W] hen Amazon.Com -- the avatar of online booksellers
              -- set up display spaces at the American Booksellers
          Association Book Expo show in Chicago last week, many
          folks in the book business took it as the harbinger of a
          new era. The Chicago show is traditionally where
          publishers show their wares for sellers, not the other
          way around.

          But in the button-down     [Image]
          world of the book
          business, times have            From Pulpless.Com
          changed dramatically.      ------------------------------
          Once frightened by the
          prospect of hocking books online, publishers are now
          embracing the Net for retail and marketing purposes.
          Offering a book online was once thought to threaten
          traditional relationships with retailers and to lead to
          mass piracy. Now publishers have even begun offering
          fans advance chapters of blockbuster titles over the

          But away from the headline-grabbing clash of titans --
          Amazon.Com vs. Barnes & Noble -- a quieter but more
          radical brand of Internet booksellers has gone to work.
          Blurring the lines between publisher, packager and
          seller, these companies offer digitized versions of
          publications --everything from science fiction novels to
          textbooks to cook books -- in plain text, portable
          document format or hypertext markup language (HTML).

          Some of the books are licensed from big publishers. Some
          are published electronically for the first time. Some of
          these electronic publishers are making available work
          that has long been unavailable. And, perhaps most
          radically, some of these new electronic publishers and
          booksellers are offering consumers the opportunity to
          create their own books -- picking several chapters from
          one cookbook, linking them to several chapters from
          another cookbook from an entirely different publisher,
          and paying piecemeal for a downloadable, custom-created
          cookbook that need be printed only if the consumer
          chooses to print it.

          It's the kind of publication-on-demand system that the
          book industry has been mulling for years, one in which
          publishers either shift the cost of printing to the
          consumer or only pay for printing at the time of sale.
          And it's a trend that could change the nature of how we
          define the word "book." Either way, it certainly gives
          new meaning to the phrase "out of print."

          "We are literally building a new distribution channel
          from scratch," said Glenn Hauman, founder of
          BiblioBytes, a New Jersey-based company that has been
          offering downloadable books since 1993. Where Hauman has
          been most successful has been in niches that cross over
          most closely with the demographic profile of the
          Internet surfer -- science fiction in particular.

          In fact, BiblioBytes recently brought back into
          availability The Glass Teat, the sci-fi cult writer
          Harlan Ellison's musings on the impact of television on
          American culture. Hauman's electronic reprint found an
          audience in part because there is an active Usenet fan
          discussion group devoted to Ellison's work.

          [Image]                        "Every lifestyle, every
                                         niche with a Usenet group
                 From BookAisle          seems like it has a
          ------------------------------ corresponding book," said
                                         Steve Potash, president
          of OverDrive Systems Inc., a Cleveland-based company
          that packages electronic books and offers electronic
          editions of books for sale through its six-month-old
          BookAisle site.

          The fragmenting, and increasing niche focus, of the
          publishing industry has actually played into the hands
          of the electronic book packager/publisher/seller, Potash
          said. While the Net can be a useful marketing tool to
          sell Tom Clancy or John Grisham titles, it can also be a
          viable distribution platform for making niche books
          profitable by reducing the cost of production and

          BookAisle offers titles from big publishers like McGraw
          Hill, but it also allows small publishers and authors
          the ability to sell books in formats like Adobe
          Acrobat's PDF or even the Web's HTML.

          "If someone wants to put out a book title they can
          upload an HTML edition at almost no cost," Potash said.

          But both Potash and Hauman -- and other pioneers like J.
          Neil Schulman, who sells his own books and other titles
          through his Pulpless.Com -- realize they're still in the
          extremely early days of the book's radical electronic
          evolution. And there are major hurdles to be leaped if
          printless text publishing is going to move from
          protozoan to pachyderm.

          Take Hauman's BiblioBytes for example. Business has been
          a struggle for his small, homegrown, undercapitalized
          company. Hauman negotiates a straight, old-fashioned
          rights acquisition for an electronic edition of the
          book. The rights acquisition is complicated by the fact
          that often no one owns the kind of rights Hauman is
          interested in acquiring.

          Then either he or the publisher has to do the equivalent
          of a prepress design job from a hard copy of the book or
          from computer desktop publishing files. For books that
          only exist in print form, scanning and optical character
          recognition software help, but books still need to be
          proofread and packaged for one or more electronic

          It sounds like reinventing the wheel, and in some ways
          it is. But by shifting production, publication,
          distribution and marketing of books online, these
          pioneers are shifting the economics of the book
          business. With lower costs, the number of books that
          authors or publishers need to sell to make money is
          relatively low.

          Further, paperless publishers can offer services to
          publishers, authors and customers that traditional
          publishers and retailers can't provide. For example,
          BiblioBytes will soon offer authors password-protected
          access to online royalty statements calculated in real
          time every time BiblioBytes sells a book.

          OverDrive will soon offer an interactive version of John
          Wiley & Sons' CPA examination training books.
          Accountants in training will be able to quiz themselves
          and get answers in real time. OverDrive is also already
          offering "componentized" books. Right now, educators can
          buy parts of different books and educational resources
          when they're assembling course materials from certain

          OverDrive's Potash looks forward to a day when consumers
          can assemble their own books, buying component parts
          from different books from various publishers at the
          price of a few dollars per component.

          If all this sounds like a radical reinvention of the
          book and a grave challenge to the old-fashioned
          publishing house model, it is. And while computer
          hobbyists have show a willingness to buy titles and
          download them from the Net, it remains to be seen
          whether a broad consumer base will want to download
          books and print them.

          On the other hand, a decade ago few publishers would
          have been willing to admit that any kind of electronic
          online publishing and sales would ever become a mainstay
          of the book business.

          "I had these exact same conversations 10 years ago with
          legal publishers," Potash laughs. " 'If I put that book
          on diskette it will affect my print sales,' " they said.
          Now they have the books in any form they can. They just
          see it as additional bottom-line revenue."

          DIGITAL NATION is published weekly, on Fridays. Click
          here for a list of links to other columns in the series.

          Related Sites
          Following are links to the external Web sites mentioned
          in this article. These sites are not part of The New
          York Times on the Web, and The Times has no control over
          their content or availability. When you have finished
          visiting any of these sites, you will be able to return
          to this page by clicking on your Web browser's "Back"
          button or icon until this page reappears.

             * Barnes & Noble

             * Amazon.Com

             * BiblioBytes

             * Usenet fan discussion group devoted to Harlan
               Ellison's work

             * BookAisle

             * OverDrive

             * Pulpless Fiction & Nonfiction Too!

          For coverage of electronic publishing, several online
          industry sites are good sources:

             * Bookwire

             * The American Bookseller

          Jason Chervokas & Tom Watson at nation@xxxxxxxxxxx
          welcome your comments and suggestions.

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