Paperless Publishing-Colin Haynes - Chapter 1-Section 1

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Electronic publishing empowers all writers in ways that no technology has ever done before. Whatever you write--fiction, poetry, news, how-to books, or business documents--there are exciting things happening that will directly affect how you write and distribute your work. As readers, too, all of us are entering a new era of rapid cultural and social change resulting from this new technology. Artists, photographers, and other creative people will be similarly affected.

This book is not about some high-tech fad that will come and go, or be limited only to a small niche market. The cultural adventure on which we are embarking is something of direct concern to you. Unlike the Renaissance some five centuries ago that followed the invention of the printing press with movable type, this "Renaissance 2" is a revolution in which almost everyone in the industrialized nations can participate. It can truly become another Age of Enlightenment.

Already a wide range of nonfiction and fictional works are being published without paper. There will probably be over 15,000 commercial titles on compact disks alone by the middle of this decade. Even more titles will be circulating on floppy disks, or being distributed via bulletin boards and over telephone lines as computer files. Whatever you write, you can also publish for pennies through these new media.


Electronic publishing covers a broad spectrum of media, formats, and methods for creating and distributing works. The common element is that the publications exist as computer files that can be read and distributed without needing to be published in the conventional sense as hardcopies on paper. It is virtual publishing, with the words and pictures having no recognizable physical form until they reach the reader, where they can be read or viewed in a variety of ways depending on the needs of the reader--including being printed out onto paper.

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The most visible forms of electronic publishing are the methods used by organizations to disseminate information internally, and CD-ROM, with titles on compact discs similar to those used for playing recorded music. In addition to these high-profile, much-hyped forms of electronic publishing, there is a grass-roots movement by writers and artists to cost-effectively exploit less-advanced computer technology to reach both mass and niche markets. Many authors, small independent publishers, institutions, and corporations publish on floppy disks, rather than the expensive and technically complex multimedia CD-ROM, and transmit their works via modem to bulletin boards, on-line services, or directly to their target audiences.

Is it difficult--and expensive--to become an electronic publisher? Turning a manuscript into a presentable electronic book is remarkably easy, and does not require expensive equipment. You can do it on very basic personal computing hardware using low-cost, even free, software. If floppy disks are your publishing medium, the unit cost can be literally pennies. Publishing on-line can be done for the cost of the telephone calls and perhaps modest charges by the bulletin boards or on-line services that you use.

Even if you have no computer at present, you can get into electronic publishing for as little as $300 by renting or buying used equipment, and still produce acceptable work, with the hypertext and other features that enable you to compete with titles from big corporations with massive resources and skilled staff. This book shows you how to do this, and the enclosed disk contains programs that enable any writer to publish electronically to a potentially high standard.

The cost obviously increases if you wish to add sound, animation, or other multimedia features to your publications. Limited animation can be achieved on basic systems, but really requires a 486-level PC or a System 7 Macintosh. In that case, expect to spend around $2,000 to get the memory, processing power, and storage needed. If, like millions of computer users, you already have such a system, the good news is that powerful and easy-to-use multimedia authoring software is available for street prices of around $100.

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Low cost and easy entry

The low cost and ease of entry into the new media ensures electronic publishing an important place in mainstream publishing. Electronic publishing has evolved further in a decade, in many respects, than conventional print publishing has developed over five centuries.

Some experts of this phenomenon predict that electronic media will surpass conventional paper books in both range and volume within a few years. Already there are strong indications that the days of conventional textbooks in schools and colleges are numbered. Hundreds of thousands of people rely more on electronic news services than on printed newspapers--and those services are operating profitably.

 

Viable alternatives to smearing ink on dead trees

As Nathan Myhrvold, the head of advanced technology for Microsoft Inc., the world's largest software publisher, puts it, "We still communicate mainly by smearing ink across dead trees." Now the pace of the change from print to electronic communications is being accelerated because of the shortage and cost of the trees that must be killed, and the expense, slowness, and environmental impact inherent in the "ink-smearing" process.

Anyone concerned about the environment must welcome the trend towards electronic publishing. In addition to the enormous savings in cost and scarce resources, electronic media have other socially important attributes that make them impossible to ignore. These include making the written word readily accessible to millions of visually handicapped people who are denied the use of printed communications, but who can readily magnify the type of digitized texts, or change them to the spoken word.

Electronic publishing is already starting to fulfill its promises of leveling the playing field for young people from disadvantaged

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backgrounds, and helping adults with limited financial resources start and operate businesses, advance careers, and obtain higher education.

 

Electronic publishing has a particular cultural and social importance because it gives added dimensions and power to the written word. The new media may prove to have the strengths that print publishing lacks in providing powerful leisure alternatives to television.

Television--and radio--are becoming dominated by junk material as they steadily encroach on print's traditional role of entertaining and informing us. The emergence of electronic publishing in its different guises at least offers a hope of maintaining channels of communication and ways of imparting knowledge in which important issues are treated in a comprehensive, responsible way, and clear distinctions can be maintained between reality and illusion.

This book explores these culturally important aspects of electronic publishing that open up such wonderful new opportunities for those who write, or who can communicate with visual images. You will see that, although some forms of electronic publishing might share the same screens as television broadcasting, they are very different media.

 

Words enter another dimension

Particularly intriguing are the ways in which the very physical structure of text might change. We have been dominated for centuries by the belief that words forming sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and publications exist only in the two dimensions to which print is limited.

When you use a highly technical reference book, for example, you might find it difficult, at least initially, to understand the relevance of its different sections and how they relate. You are limited to seeing

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the contents of the book in two dimensions, with only two pages of it open at any one time. When evaluating the usefulness of a book you plan to buy, you try to overcome these problems by flicking through the pages, essentially trying to get it to dynamically interact with you.

The better electronic reference books are inherently dynamic. They reach out to help you use them. They are now also starting to enter a fascinating third dimension, sometimes with the help of portable devices like the one shown in Fig. 1-1.

At Xerox PARC (the Palo Alto Research Center in California), which has been the source of so much advanced information processing technology, researchers are making text function efficiently in three dimensions, to give assemblies of words a physical depth. In the Xerox Information Theater project, you can browse through a text database on screen almost as a virtual reality experience. The words and phrases are not changed into graphics, but are set out in three-dimensional trees and other structures so that you can almost literally move into the text and explore it physically, just as scientists are using virtual reality to be able to move around inside models of molecular structures, notably the DNA helix, to understand them better.

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Hypertext links take on a new substance and usefulness when this third dimension opens, becoming far more dynamic when they break away from the paper metaphors of one two-dimensional page leading sequentially to another. Developments in artificial intelligence, working with linked and embedded computer-created objects and other information-processing technology, will let you create and use words in ways that you cannot even conceive of now.

On-line and CD-ROM text databases are already becoming so huge that established methods of using them are breaking down. We can only go so far in refining better and faster ways of searching for specific information. The next phase (which is already here) involves computers that help create relationships between you, your documents, and the information they contain, consequently making documents really give up their information. Such computers learn quickly as you begin a search on what information you are really seeking. They interpret, rather than just slavishly follow, the keywords and other search parameters that you provide.

When you enter these large text resources, you might not even know what you really want among all the riches there. But the computer will note, as you grope around, what you accept and reject, alternately enlarging and then refining your searches, making suggestions, and steadily guiding you to the knowledge you seek.

Words must be published electronically to exploit these developments, which represent a quantum leap in the power of the written word to influence our cultural, as well as technological, evolution. Consequently, for those who love words, literature, and the wonders of the human mind, the prospect of electronic publishing replacing much of print publishing is not a doomsday scenario, but one offering marvelous new creative and cultural opportunities.

 

Crashing through linguistic barriers

Another of many culturally important developments made possible by electronic publishing is the way it is starting to demolish linguistic barriers. One of my previous books has just been published in Japan in a long, complicated, and ridiculously expensive process. However,

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as I write these words, the UPS delivery truck arrived; the driver handed me, in a small brown package, software offering almost everything I need to produce an electronic version of this and any future books in Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana (the various Japanese writing systems). Not only can it save months of work and thousands of dollars, it creates publishing opportunities in other languages that never existed before. Later in this book, you will see how easy and practical it is now to publish directly from a modest desktop to the furthest corners of the global marketplace.

All this does not mean the end of conventional books, those attractive, indeed sensuous, objects that impart knowledge and take us on the most exotic adventures. Books, wonderful books, will always be with us, but now they are joined by other exciting additions to the publishing spectrum. Existing printed works, and a veritable avalanche of new titles, are now available in more flexible, economical, and practical forms. Usually they will be read on computer screens--particularly the new generation of portable, pocketable information processors, the handheld personal digital assistants (PDAs) that are about to become almost as ubiquitous as pocket calculators, and as convenient for reading as a paperback (Fig. 1-2).

Just as some books today are borrowed, and others purchased, so electronic books will be selected and used by readers as temporary disposable--or more permanent durable--consumer items. They will increasingly be read in their paperless, digitized form as society becomes more computer-conscious, but they can also be read in a more traditional manner by printing out all or part as conventional hardcopies on paper, using hardware readily available at home or in the office. The cost of the individually created hardcopy will be competitive with buying a trade paperback--usually less.

Nor need we lose all the physical and visual appeal of printed books when they are transferred to disk. The self-publishing author and the small press going into electronic media have great opportunities for creative packaging and presentation to give real-life substance to a virtual publication. Although on-line distribution of electronic publications through the Internet and other services is very important, you will see how to give the new publishing media the visual and tactile appeal to make them desirable consumer objects.

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A particularly effective publishing format is the book-disk hybrid combination--combining some of the physical substance and point-of-sale features of a printed book, with all of the flexibility and cost-efficiency of a floppy or CD-ROM disk. These hybrids are becoming the mainstay of some authors and publishers, with the hardcopy proportion of the package decreasing as readers come to accept that the real value lies in the information on the disk. The popular book-CD combination From Alice to Ocean is one such work. The illustration in Fig. 1-3 is a still from the CD, showing how readers can interact with the CD or use it for teaching purposes.

These hybrids are an excellent packaging format for magazines and journals--and for many types of self-publishing also. Combining print and electronic media overcomes many marketing problems. For example, both a popular magazine from Belgium and the Indize business economic data service from Mexico use techniques well

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within the reach of almost any desktop personal computer to appeal to their audiences.

Hybrids have particular appeal for academic and scientific publishing--and are the media of the future for school and college projects, theses, doctorates, and conference papers.

 

Powerful forces at work

The economic and environmental forces behind this revolution in written communications are very powerful. Electronic books are far, far cheaper and easier to produce and distribute than print--and they are very kind to the environment. These methods of publishing are expanding very rapidly and fast becoming a feature of everyday life, driven forward both by big-money investment and by the forces of individual entrepreneurship and creativity that are the main focus of this book.

Even the established print media can hardly contain their enthusiasm, despite the challenges they face.

"Books have made their way to your computer's screen--and people are actually reading them," said Newsweek, the first major news magazine to produce a CD (Fig. 1-4) in a story on electronic publishing.

"Electronic books are popping up everywhere . .. . Some are already more popular than their print counterparts."

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"The technology adds to the printed word a whole new dimension--interaction," said Business Week.

"The electronic book represents the start of a publishing revolution," declared the Los Angeles Times. "Reading will never be the same."

The Washington Post described the electronic books put out by the Voyager publishing company as being "in the vanguard of a fast-growing new field that is about to revolutionize the publishing industry."

 

Mac, DOS, Unix, Windows, OS/2--e-books are everywhere!

Voyager alone has developed a list of over 50 titles for the Macintosh computing environment. The DOS/Windows computing community, with over 100 million compatible systems worldwide, is expanding its electronic publishing activities at a far greater rate. Electronic publications can be created to move easily between these computing environments, and to Unix, OS/2, and other platforms. Therefore, almost everything in the following pages is relevant to you, whatever kind of system you use. Some of the authoring programs mentioned are specific to a particular platform, but many of these will soon be available in other versions.

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Learning to use good authoring and publishing software is not very difficult; once pointed in the right direction, you will be off and running in no time. Actually doing it, rather than reading detailed instructions, is far more fruitful, and a lot more fun. The most important benefits you should obtain from this book are learning about the many opportunities offered by electronic publishing.

Many works are now disseminated to substantial readerships only as electronic files on floppy disks or on-line services. This book will get your creative and entrepreneurial juices flowing by examining the stories behind some of them, including previously printed books that have metamorphosed into electronic forms featuring sound, moving pictures, and other multimedia features.

 

Electronic publishing will become more prestigious and satisfying for authors, and more acceptable to readers, as public attitudes and perceptions of computing change. This is happening already at an increasing pace. Soon, an electronic text on a floppy will be almost as acceptable as a printed one to over 200 million people around the world who have ready access to a personal computer in their homes and at work. That demographic category includes the entire target readership for many publications. Children, frequently more comfortable with computers than their parents, might come to regard electronic media as more natural than print. Already, a generation has largely abandoned newspapers.

Reference books represent an example of such changing attitudes. For generations, encyclopedia sets have been marketed with strong visual imagery of their physical bulk, emphasizing that the volumes constitute a large and valuable source of information. We have all been exposed to the advertisements, fliers, and mailings picturing shelves groaning under the weight of 20 volumes that will "enhance your home and demonstrate your investment in your children's future."

In a very few years, consumer perceptions have changed so that significant numbers of people now accept that those same values are

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