Paperless Publishing-Colin Haynes - Chapter 2 - Section 2

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they generate large files that are difficult and expensive to distribute. At the same time, the MultiMedia Workshop program is very Windows-friendly, and comes with its own icon so that, after installation, you can start it with a couple of mouse clicks.

 

This book devotes considerable attention to "lower-end" programs because most author-publishers find it important to publish in formats that will reach the largest possible international markets, where comparatively primitive systems such as PCs and XTs are still common. There continues to be a massive user base of less-powerful systems that show no signs of being scrapped. You can have a considerable marketing edge if you publish multimedia works on floppies to these computer users, who are being ignored by the big commercial publishers pitching to CD-ROM owners.

Incredible things are being done with these older, less powerful, systems, and their users represent an enormous potential market for many electronic publications. If you create your publication or presentation in software that will run on CGA, EGA, or standard VGA displays, and does not need more than standard RAM, or much, if any, hard disk capacity, you can reach these markets most effectively.

Most of these millions of computer users around the world understand English--and authors and publishers should remember that important English-language markets are not confined to North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia. India, for example, has the largest English-speaking literate workforce in the world after the U.S., and over 500,000 personal computers.

 

Multimedia for small markets and small fry

The increased storage capacities of floppies, together with improved compression techniques and the ability to create one-off or short-run

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CD-ROM discs, is making multimedia publishing for small niche markets far more viable. Multimedia might even be appropriate for important one-to-one communications, like submitting a book or television script proposal or a job application.

Michael O'Donnell, who founded the Ask Me Multimedia Center at the University of North Dakota, tells about a sound, pictures, and text publication on disk that he created for the smallest audience imaginable: his five-year-old son, Tyson.

"Tyson was very upset when we had to move homes," Mike recalls. "He had a really hard time figuring out where he is now in relation to where we used to live. The changes were proving quite traumatic for him, so I created a little interactive multimedia show about how and why we had moved homes. I showed where we used to live, the familiar things about our previous home, and where it was located in relation to our new address.

"My son was the main character in the story about our move, and he could replay the move from his own viewpoint by participating in the program as he ran it on the computer.

"It worked marvelously and Tyson ran the show over and over again himself, finding it far more interesting than watching television. This little multimedia production really helped him to adjust to the move, and to settle down happily in our new home. These are the kinds of applications of multimedia that I find so fascinating, and why I expect multimedia in various forms to become such an important part of writing, art, and other creative activities," Mike concludes.

 

Publishing through kiosks in public places

Mike O'Donnell is now an evangelist about the many ways that multimedia can enhance our lives, but he learned about this technology the hard way when he lost his shirt--along with his house and most of his possessions--as a pioneer of multimedia information kiosks for tourists in Virginia in the mid-1980s. Both the hardware

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and the software were not sufficiently developed in those days to make such a venture viable. Now almost anything is possible as multimedia booms into a projected $25 billion business by 1995, but you still need to be very careful getting into tight market corners such as kiosks, where development costs can be high and, if a title doesn't work, it might be structured so rigidly for the medium that it is not easy to try it in another market niche.

However, publishing material for use in kiosks in malls, tourist locations, and other public places offers enormous potential, with particular opportunities to generate funding through sponsorship and on-screen advertising. If kiosk distribution is likely to figure in your plans, you might want to select a high-end authoring program that will enable you to publish on video laser disc, and also monitor usage of the kiosks and record any data that is entered by end-users. Macromedia's Director and Authorware Professional are the types of software that enable authors to meet such needs, but when you get into this kind of complexity, the learning curves tend to be much longer and steeper.

If you already have video material that you want to publish on laser disc, it can cost as little as $300 per disc to do the transfer. The Optical Disc Corporation (800-350-3500) maintains a list of certified recording centers providing these services in different parts of the U.S.

 

Keep it simple

Apart from demonstrating the impact that a simple interactive program can have on children as well as adults, the anecdote about little Tyson shows how quick and easy it is to author a multimedia publication. Mike O'Donnell used his own Super Show & Tell (SST) multimedia software running under Windows. This type of program typically costs less than $200 and is categorized and reviewed as being intended for home or amateur use, with the inference of being inferior to more expensive and complex multimedia authoring software targeted primarily at the business presentation markets. As mentioned earlier in this chapter, that is not necessarily true.

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If you are venturing into multimedia for the first time, before laying out a lot of money on so-called professional software--and maybe having to upgrade your hardware to run it--take a look at programs like SST. Even if you plan ambitious productions, such as full-motion video, you might well find that such "low-end" programs have all the features that you need. Their short learning curve is an even more attractive incentive to go this route than the low cost.

If your content is of high quality, the tools with which you assemble it might become less critical as long as they do a competent job within their limitations. Indeed, try to be too clever and you can fall flat on your face, particularly when using multimedia in business situations.

There is an obvious temptation, once you have the tools and the skills, to over-use multimedia's power to increase production values. It's natural to suppose that special effects will enhance your ability to communicate effectively. However, like the zoom button on a videocamera, multimedia's special effects are best used with style in moderation, and confined to appropriate situations where they really benefit the publication and are not incorporated just as a gimmick.

Beware of trying to be too complex, particularly if tempted by a wide range of features provided in the best animation, morphing, and other image-manipulation programs. The bold, simple image and sequence can be by far the most effective, and your publication's impact and aesthetic qualities might be reduced by incorporating too many production gimmicks. Instead of being judged on content, your efforts might be critiqued on how well you did the multimedia, and the importance of the content consequently diluted.

Particularly in professional and business environments, a classically simple, elegant desktop-published printed piece stands out from all the multi-font, clip art clutter that bombards us. The same principle applies as electronic publishing becomes more commonplace.

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To create and use the more sophisticated multimedia effectively, you need hardware that is at least up to the industry's MPC Level 2 specification established in 1993. There is now a wide choice of MPC2 hardware systems available at retail outlets and by direct mail, with prices steadily falling.

The MPC2 specification calls for a personal computer with a 25 MHz 486SX central processing unit (CPU) or better--get a 486DX or Pentium processor if you can afford it. The system must have a minimum of 4M of RAM, with at least 8M recommended. A hard drive with a minimum of 160M is specified, but the cost difference of larger-capacity drives is now so small that at least 250M will be cost-effective. The more space and the faster the access speed, the better.

Your video display will need to be super VGA, 640480 resolution, and able to display 65,536 colors. Sadly, some of the best programs and multimedia titles no longer support standard 16-color VGA, although there are many millions of those monitors still in use around the world. If you are publishing to a mass international market where standard VGA is the norm, bear this in mind.

In addition to the usual parallel and serial ports, the MPC2 specification calls for MIDI input and output ports (normally on the sound board) and a joystick port for playing games. The sound board must be capable of handling at least 16-bit digital sound, an eight-note synthesizer, and a MIDI player.

The CD-ROM drive should be an integral part of the system, be CD-ROM XA ready, and able to read multisession discs. A 300K-per-second transfer rate is specified for MPC2, with a maximum average seek time of 400 milliseconds. However, you should be able to buy significantly faster CD drives than this with little or no price premium over the basic MPC2 requirements.

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Beware of buying outdated CD-ROM drives. They might look the same as the latest models, but the speed and efficiency with which drives can retrieve information is increasing all the time, creating a lot of outdated and redundant hardware that finds its way into the marketplace at apparently bargain prices.

Speed of access is particularly important for CD-ROM drives because they are inherently much slower in delivering data to your system than the typical hard drive. Even a comparatively fast CD-ROM drive might have an actual functional speed that is a tenth of the transfer rate of your hard drive. This can be very restricting when accessing a large database or running a complex multimedia presentation.

Over the two years between mid-1992 and mid-1994, the access speeds of some CD-ROM drives have increased by as much as 400%, often without obvious visual differences. So it is easy to get caught with an old, slower model version. Such dramatic increases in transfer rates are not likely to continue because of the practical problems of achieving acceptable error rates when accessing data on ever-faster spinning disks, as well as getting rid of the heat that the drive motors and mechanisms generate as rotation speeds increase. However, there will be a steady improvement in CD drive performance; monitor this before making a buying decision.

Advanced multimedia needs lots of system power. When running a high-end multimedia production program such as Adobe's Premiere, you need lots of RAM and other system resources. You just can't have too much in the way of system resources if you intend to use video, and it is a false economy not to have the most powerful hardware you can afford. Also, make provisions for easily and economically upgrading as improved hardware becomes available or your needs increase.

If your computing experience has been confined mainly to handling text, you will be amazed at how demanding graphics can be--and moving graphics, such as videos or animation, are the most demanding of all. A system that might tackle enormous text files with aplomb can fail dismally to cope with graphics because they consume such large amounts of memory and disk space.

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You might decide, particularly if you are a corporate writer with a budget to dip into, to contract out all or part of your multimedia production requirements, particularly any video elements. (Although doing so can be very expensive and has wrecked the budgets of many a multimedia production.) Or you might decide that video and audio demand more system resources, time, and computing knowledge than you are able to devote to your multimedia publishing project.

In either case, consider first the large amounts of material now becoming available as video and audio clips that can be incorporated at low cost into multimedia productions. These work rather like clip art. A CD-ROM disk contains a selection of video, still photographic images, or audio material under different classifications. If you find something that would help your program, you just copy and patch it into the appropriate place.

If your electronic publication is for internal, non-profit uses, there is usually no fee above what you paid for the clip collection. If you are publishing commercially for profit, you probably have to get clearance and pay a royalty, but this can now be a simple and reasonably economical procedure. The compiler of that particular clip collection will (or should!) have tracked down the original copyright holders and established proper licensing arrangements.

Just a few segments of the appropriate video sequences can add enormous production values to your title at very little cost, leaving you more of your budget to spend on other multimedia features, and perhaps removing the need to contract out the production at all. You might be able to convert a manuscript into a multimedia title just by adding clip visuals and audio creatively.

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Video points for publishers to ponder

Video production and editing for multimedia deserve a book on their own, but there are some key points directly related to video use in electronic publishing that need to be emphasized here:

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Figure 2-5.

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Buyer beware!

If you do decide to contract out your video production needs, any major metropolitan area has lots of suppliers anxious to pitch for your business, including new ventures without a track record. To reduce the risk of making a bad choice, be sure to see examples of previous productions and follow up by seeking the opinions of those clients. Ensure that you will be given similar production values, within the constraints of your budget, to those you see in the demos--and that the contract protects you against budget over-runs and hidden costs.

Your contract should include a guaranteed completion date, as well as identify the key staff who will be deployed on your project. You might meet some impressive creative people while they are pitching for your business, and then find that your work is actually handled by more junior and less experienced staff, or has been subcontracted to freelancers who you know nothing about.

Be aware that video production is a creative process in which the personnel involved might have very limited understanding of the commercial or other objectives that you, as the client, seek. It's up to you to carefully coordinate the creative process that brings the words, pictures, and music together, with how you, as the publisher, have defined your target market.

For example, a sound engineer who lays on a rap music track might do a great job for a product aimed at the MTV youth market, but alienate a target group who you would expect to be watching PBS or A&E. The ability to cater for specific markets is very important in multimedia authoring, and does not automatically correlate with the professional competence of production specialists.

As a client, I once commissioned an important television commercial for screening in a major Third World market, and my advertising agency employed a high-powered television director from Canada. She was undoubtedly competent, but had little understanding for the distinctive culture of the audience I was trying to reach. She had to be removed from the project, and I finished the editing with a local

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technician at a fraction of the cost, but many times the sensitivity for the market.

It is particularly important that you are happy with both the concepts and the detailed treatments as reflected in scripts and storyboards before allowing the project to go forward to the very expensive phases of shooting, or the development of computer-generated images. It is comparatively cheap and easy to modify scripts and storyboards, but difficult and expensive to make changes once the cameras are rolling.

 

Allocating resources

A typical ratio of time and money to be invested in a reasonably sophisticated multimedia production would be one-third of the resources to initial planning and scripting and two-thirds to development and final compilation. The time and budget required vary enormously, of course, but if the work is contracted out, be prepared to pay $1,000 or more per finished minute of a professionally produced title that uses video and has a significant amount of interactivity built in.

The cost factor is why learning to use the power of authoring software yourself can pay off handsomely. The learning period can extend from a few hours to several months. If you pick software appropriate to your needs and abilities, you should acquire the capacity to produce a short, effective presentation from existing material within a day or two.

 

New horizons open for audio use in all kinds of electronic publications with the advent of TrueSpeech for Windows, enabling sound files to be compressed to about a sixteenth of their original size, so that a minute of clear speech occupies about 60K of disk space. Compaq and Microsoft are among the industry leaders

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adopting this system, with TrueSpeech incorporated in the Windows Sound System audio add-on kit.

However, as with other multimedia features, don't get too far ahead of the capabilities of the target markets for your works. By early 1994, the installed base of sound cards in personal computers in America alone was approaching eight million, so sound is becoming an important element for many computer users. But while the number of installed sound cards is increasing rapidly--by four million a year or more--the majority of PCs for many years to come will have only their tiny built-in speakers. Those users with sound cards that were purchased, often impulsively, to use with a game or a CD will spend a lot of their time with their enhanced sound systems inactive.

Your electronic publication might need to be compiled, therefore, with the knowledge that any audio functions you build into it might not be used to full effect by a significant proportion of your target audience. With this in mind, you might decide to include sound files that will work on just the internal speaker that almost every system has, or that you will double up (if you have sufficient disk space) and include files for both the internal speaker and the most widely installed sound cards.

 

Where to find your audio material

There is a wealth of audio material available on the shareware market that does not require a sound card--both programs to generate audio files and the sound equivalent of clip art. If the right audio clip is not available, you can create it yourself, or ask a specialist to do it for you.

Orlando Dare, president of Creative Software Engineering in Baltimore, Maryland, has been a pioneer in this field with his PC-Talk programs. Orlando is a digital design engineer who for years has been trying to improve the quality of sound through the PC speaker, while the main commercial thrust has been to exploit the large potential profits available from providing expensive hardware and software products to those who can afford higher-end systems. Orlando has made a significant contribution for the majority of users who rely on

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