Paperless Publishing-Colin Haynes - Chapter 1-Section4

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personalities and intellects being applied anew to Shakespeare, and able to benefit from him being electronically published on disk.

Sherlock Holmes is enjoying a similar revival in electronic books--he even has a bulletin board to himself. The medium is also generating new works unique to itself that can spread through the publishing/broadcasting environment, like the phenomenally successful Carmen San Diego series that has crossed from the computer to the television screen, and back again.

 

Xanadu comes closer

A short distance from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, the father of hypertext works towards making electronic publishing's Xanadu a reality. Ted Nelson, who introduced me to this fascinating field, has developed a realistic business plan with, as its ultimate objective, putting all of the world's published literature into computer databases. In the near future, we may be able to walk into an electronic publishing outlet and order up a title, plus its associated source material, almost as easily as you can stroll into a McDonald's and get a hamburger. Just as you can custom-build a cassette tape of your favorite music, you will be able to shop on-line at an electronic bookstore and download onto floppy disks a bundle of fiction or nonfiction works to help on a research project, for school studies, or to take on vacation.

If Ted Nelson's Xanadu project succeeds, its best feature for authors will be that it contains an automatic royalty credit system. When anyone accesses your book, the computer pays a royalty into your account.

Books that are now just "a good read" will acquire additional dimensions to entertain, educate, and inform. Publishers who see the potential of the new electronic media will augment high-tech novels like Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October with maps, blueprints of the missiles and atomic submarines, and audio "telephone taps" and other material with which the reader can explore and participate. Electronic publishing can enable readers to move much closer to the author, even to share in the creative process, if that is what they and

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the authors wish. Significant numbers of fiction authors are now meeting on-line with their readers, not just to promote their books but to get constructive feedback on already published works and suggestions for future titles.

 

Realizing writer's dreams

One of the best shareware programs with which to compile electronic books is named, appropriately, Writer's Dream, because it delivers on the dream of many writers who despair of ever being published in print. Just "being published," though, is only the first of Writers' Dreams becoming reality with electronic publishing. There is other software available enabling you to control the whole creative, production, and distribution processes. You can expand the horizons of your work both creatively and financially.

"The personal computer is becoming a liberating, creative tool," says an author on the creative frontier, Doug Millison. Jeff Napier, creator of the Writer's Dream book-compiling program, agrees. He sees the most dramatic and exciting aspect of electronic publishing to be the way it empowers authors with specialized knowledge or creative imaginations to disseminate their work to the widest possible audience. The opportunities--the right--to publish can no longer be denied.

The tools that the technology and the skills of programmers such as Jeff Napier and Ted Husted (the creator of the award-winning Dart electronic book compiler on your disk) are providing to empower authors are being used in some fascinating ways. The celebrated cyberpunk author William Gibson produced an electronic book titled Agrippa that can be run and read only once on a computer. Then it self-destructs into encrypted code. Because of its unique features, collectors paid as much as $1,500 a copy for Agrippa "first editions," a most unusual example of the potential for successful entrepreneurial self-publishing. Fans of this peer figure of hacker mythology immediately set about cracking his book's self-destruct encryption code. Gibson expects them to succeed and then release his text and their solutions to its coding mystery over thousands of bulletin boards--"and that will be a pretty interesting way to be published too," he comments.

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The term electronic book is not new--it was first coined over 25 years ago by the distinguished software engineer Andries van Dam at Brown University to describe documents created and read through a computer. It has taken the intervening two decades, however, for electronic publishing to blossom into a universal medium. We have first had to go through a phase when personal computers were used to create hardcopy paper documents. Only now are they really starting to break out of these traditional restraints, to stop imitating paper media, and communicate to maximum effect in their own uniquely flexible and dynamic electronic medium.

One result is the now-frequent publication of texts that are always changing as both the original authors and their readers contribute to them. That is a prime business need, as you will see in the next chapter on how electronic publishing is transforming the way authors work. It can be fun also. A popular activity on bulletin boards has been the co-authoring of fictional electronic books. People take turns coming on-line to develop the plot, introduce or manipulate characters, and then hand the literary baton to another. Some of the results are fascinating examples of a literary collaboration that has never been possible before.

The concept of constantly evolving texts has been developed furthest and fastest in the business community, where electronic publishing is having a major cultural and economic impact. Every kind of corporate document, from the technical manuals for servicing a jumbo jet to the employee handbooks detailing medical benefits, can be compiled as true team efforts and then continually modified by new input, experience, and changing circumstances.

In the business world, electronic knowledge sharing, text processing, and publishing are creating what Raymond Cote and Stanford Diel, testing editors of Byte magazine's laboratory, described as "living knowledge." This is a new form of corporate "storytelling" as important to the evolution of business cultures as traditional storytelling has been to the development of human society's thinking processes and beliefs.

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"This living knowledge emerges as people share their perspectives and defuse their collective prejudices, blind spots, and unfounded assumptions," the two editors maintain.

Most of this corporate storytelling and exchange of living knowledge takes place through local networks and electronic mail systems that vary widely. For more formal publishing, industry and governments created the SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) in 1986 as the international standard for electronic publishing through which documents can be exchanged. In much electronic publishing for business purposes, it will be essential to conform to this standard, so detailed information about it is presented later in this book.

 

There are also other easier, and more economical, ways to publish electronically simply by exploiting the universal personal computer operating systems, DOS and (to a lesser extent) the Macintosh. By using basic ASCII text, perhaps enhanced by file management software such as List, or easy-to-use publication formatting programs such as Writer's Dream or Illustrated Reader (Fig. 1-9), you can produce a book or journal on disk that is readily accessible by anyone with a PC or Mac.

More advanced electronic books--but still easy for authors to create and readers to use--feature sophisticated hypertext links. They can be compiled by programs such as Dart and Orpheus. Some programs, such as Storymaker, are particularly appropriate for younger readers. Other programs enable you to easily create magazines and newsletters on disk, write and publish poetry, or even create games, another valid electronic self-publishing medium.

The latest versions of almost all of these shareware authoring programs now do a good job of displaying graphics and running other programs, so that electronic books on disk can be enhanced visually and aurally with the animation, sound effects, and other features found in expensive commercial multimedia publications on CD-ROM.

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Thanks to higher density disks and file compression programs, large texts or ambitious multimedia works can be self-published on a single floppy. These multimedia books can feature graphics, sound, or animation, or interactive programs such as tutorials. They can be "read" on virtually any other personal computer without the need for a CD drive by circulating, along with your publication, a run-time playback module. The whole package unzips onto a hard drive from which it can run faster and more smoothly than some CD-ROM productions. Even the creating, mastering, and duplication of CDs is now coming within the reach of a small business or an individual author's desktop and bank balance. Consequently, this medium is given appropriate attention in the following pages.

 

For a long time to come, the future of universal electronic publishing will be linked to the average PC and Macintosh environments--

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especially in their portable forms. We will see in the next few years a rapid growth of electronic devices compatible with those desktop standards, but about the size of a standard paperback book. Sony's Bookman shows what is possible, although, like the early personal computers, this particular hardware was a pioneer handicapped by lack of compatibility and high price.

There will be a continued rapid growth of electronic publishing on CD-ROM disks, but it is not yet the appropriate medium for most self-publishing, and may soon be eclipsed by the growth of on-line publishing opportunities as the information highways stretch into more homes and offices. Although it is now possible to create a master CD-ROM and duplicate it for substantially less than some conventionally printed books--under $2 each in quantity--the hardware to do this is still expensive, at around $3,000 for a basic system. Also, most independent publishing projects do not contain enough text or graphics to justify the enormous storage capacity of a CD--you can compress the files and put them onto one or two floppies which users can decompress to their hard disks.

Consequently, electronic books on CD-ROM will continue to be dominated for several years by commercial publishers with big budgets. Anyway, CD-ROM books can be read only by the minority of computer users who have the right playback hardware, which limits their potential readership considerably. CDs risk being leapfrogged in technology by both on-line services and smart cards, those miniaturized electronic devices the size of credit cards already displaying enormous potential for electronic publishing to the users of portable computers.

The floppy disk or the modem link remain the electronic publishing mass media of the present and the immediate future. They are cheap, universal, and readily accessible to both authors and readers. The floppy and the telephone lines are where you can take your first adventures in electronic publishing at minimum cost and to maximum effect.

"Electronic publishing is in its infancy, and radical developments can be expected in the next few years," says one of the leading pioneers in the medium, John Galuszka of Serendipity Systems. John forecasts

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parallel development of the two main distribution channels--on-line and in "hard" electronic format on floppies, CD-ROMs, and the smart cards that could become the main medium in the second half of this decade.

Nothing is certain, but that need not deter you. Once you start creating your work in electronic, digital form, it will always be comparatively easy to develop and convert it to take full advantage of new opportunities as they arise.

The technology is fascinating, the cultural implications make it a great adventure. Let's get started!

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