[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
Electronic Publishing Alters Very Definition of the Book
- To: BOOK_ARTS-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
- Subject: Electronic Publishing Alters Very Definition of the Book
- From: "Peter D. Verheyen" <pdverhey@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Fri, 6 Jun 1997 08:33:46 -0400
- Message-id: <199706061236.FAA13762@SUL-Server-2.Stanford.EDU>
- Sender: "The Book Arts: binding, typography, collecting" <BOOK_ARTS-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
This is a multi-part message in MIME format.
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
Related links mentioned at end of this New York Times article.
<http://www.barnesandnoble.com/> Barnes & Noble
<news:alt.fan.harlan-ellison>Usenet fan discussion group devoted to
Harlan Ellison's work
<http://www.pulpless.com/> Pulpless Fiction & Nonfiction Too!
For coverage of electronic publishing, several online industry sites are
<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
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii; name="060697nation.html"
Content-Disposition: inline; filename="060697nation.html"
[CyberTimes] [Click here for latest breaking news on MSNBC]
June 6, 1997 [Image]
By JASON CHERVOKAS & TOM WATSON [Bio]
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
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
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
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.
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
* Usenet fan discussion group devoted to Harlan
* Pulpless Fiction & Nonfiction Too!
For coverage of electronic publishing, several online
industry sites are good sources:
* The American Bookseller
Jason Chervokas & Tom Watson at nation@xxxxxxxxxxx
welcome your comments and suggestions.
Home | Sections | Contents | Search | Forums | Help
Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company
[Click here for latest breaking news on MSNBC]