Paperless Publishing-Colin Haynes - Chapter 5 - Section 1

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AUTHORS and other artists who publish only in print and other traditional media can divorce themselves to a large degree from the distribution function. That is not the case with electronic publishing, where the method of distribution of the finished work has a direct impact on the creative and marketing processes.

 

If you are used to working in traditional media, it might require a considerable adjustment to accept the new concept of a virtual publication not needing a physical presence. The products created in electronic publishing just do not have the shape, form, weight, and substance of familiar books, magazines, and cassettes. E-books cast no shadow, take up no space in the conventional sense, and can fly invisibly in seconds from one side of the world to the other with negligible cost or consumption of energy and physical resources. They can be compressed, expanded, copied, and manipulated dynamically almost without restraint. Their geographical location is largely irrelevant.

Only if you appreciate this totally new concept of a printed book, newspaper, magazine, or taped production, can you tune in fully to the opportunities for distributing, and therefore creating and marketing, these virtual publications. All the dimensions with which you relate to physical publications are changed, including time.

When authors write books for printing, they research and complete a manuscript that, after a long process, comes back to them from the publisher as edited page proofs for the author to make final corrections. Then, more months later, the book is published as a complete physical entity and the author can do no more with it until, if he or she is lucky, the publisher calls a couple of years later and offers another edition.

Print publishing and distribution comprise an inherently slow, stop-and-start process that locks the information in the manuscript into a

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series of rigid physical and time structures. Deadlines must be met as the book is edited and typeset, illustrations processed, pages made up, and the cover designed and printed. These activities involve much physical activity and consumption of resources in different locations, some perhaps on the other side of the world.

Other deadlines, changes in physical location, and consumption of materials occur as the pages are assembled into forms, printed, the paper cut and trimmed, and the cover added and binding completed. Then the finished book imposes further physical demands and costs because it must be warehoused, inventoried, ordered, protectively packaged, and physically distributed as a complete unit. This is all great for Federal Express, the timber and paper industries, and printers. For authors and their publishers it is, literally, a big drag.

Electronic publishing need not be like that at all--and the degree to which it differs is dictated largely by the distribution method being used. In much author-publishing, the entire process can take place from the author's desktop.

 

The single sale becomes more profitable

There is a particular benefit for e-books that will be sold and distributed in small quantities or single units to different addresses. Fulfillment of single orders for printed books often represents a loss to publishers, a factor that, along with high warehousing costs, contributes to premature remaindering. But authors, and even large publishers, can distribute single e-books very profitably.

A major work, such as an encyclopedia on a CD-ROM, might have very similar creative, production, and marketing methods to those established for printed books. If it is distributed, perhaps piecemeal, along the information highways, however, it can still become virtual, dynamic, and very flexible. It moves more freely, and is probably used very differently, than a traditional book.

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Rent a book--bit by bit!

Readers might not even purchase a large electronic reference work as a complete package. Because it has few physical restrictions, it can be rented piece by piece.

Imagine going into a reference library, taking one of their most prized volumes from the shelves, ripping out the pages you need, and offering to pay a few cents for what you have abstracted while mutilating a book that might cost $80 to replace! You can do just that in an electronic library, and nobody will protest because the valuable reference book from which you have taken the pages is not damaged; it is on disk or CD, as shown in Fig. 5-1. All, or any part of it, can be cloned indefinitely.

The author of such a book being distributed on-line is unlikely to be able to sit back and relax as he or she would after an edited manuscript has gone to the printers. Virtual books need not have clearly defined moments when no more changes can be made. The author can be involved in a continual evolutionary updating process, even having to process sections of the text that have been altered and returned by readers, or constantly incorporating and then distributing new additions or amendments.

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The potential for distributing virtual books becomes apparent when you consider how they can travel around the world by radio. Although we are being bombarded by the significance of the information highways flowing along optical and wired cables over our heads and under our streets, electronic documents do not need these physical transport systems. They can fly through the ether in a type of "beam-me-a-book" technology, as shown in Fig. 5-2.

Some of the most impressive medium and long-term technological changes in communications are taking place in radio. The dream of vast electronic bookstores and libraries that authors and readers can use from anywhere in the world without even needing a telephone is moving quickly towards reality. Planning is already well advanced to create a digital library in the U.S. with ten million volumes. There is mounting academic and political opinion that such projects here and in other countries should be treated as national priorities. Some

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people are concerned that if access and distribution of such libraries is available only through commercial on-line services, fundamental freedoms of information will be compromised. If for no other reason, radio must be nurtured as an important medium for distributing electronic publications. Radio has always been an effective medium to challenge political control and commercial exploitation.

A product that does not need physical form is ideal for distribution by radio, and there is a vast global wireless infrastructure hungry for new products that has already demonstrated its unique ability to deliver publications. Radio is expanding by leaps and bounds, with development being enhanced by a remarkable degree of international cooperation. As a result, the coverage gets greater and the rates, for services where payment must be made, should come down to make e-book distribution by radio viable. Electronic publications distributed on the Internet and other on-line services are already accessible from hand-held, untethered personal computing devices, as well as via cable connections.

 

New satellites connect the world cheaply

In addition to the major developments taking place in person-to-person radio communication in the U.S. and Europe, international links are being forged that will have a great impact on how information is distributed around the world.

The Immarsat international satellite network, linked to ground services all over the world, has ambitious plans for both high-speed and low-cost data services to be introduced during the middle and late 1990s. These services could be very important for international publishing by radio.

Cellular radio services will never cover all of the U.S., but radio communications anywhere in the country should become practical and affordable from an American Mobile Satellite Corporation service due to begin in 1995 with rates of about $1.50 a minute. A Telestat

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satellite will bring similar benefits to Canada. Globalstar satellites due to start providing international services in 1997 might cut transmission charges to well under a dollar a minute.

 

New life from an old technology

One of the keys to the future is radio teletype technology. It is not new at all, but the applications for it created by electronic publishing are both novel and exciting.

Over 20 years ago, when I was a foreign correspondent broadcasting for the BBC, syndicated radio services in the U.S., and other agencies, radio teletype enabled me to get stories in and out of the most difficult places. The technology's enormous potential first became apparent to me when I used it to outwit the censors to disseminate the first reports of starvation and atrocities in Nigeria.

Two decades ago, I was publishing thousands of words daily to a radio receiver feeding a teleprinter, both independent of electric or cable services, located in a remote part of Africa. It is immensely satisfying to be able to grab texts out of the air, or transmit them, in defiance of official attempts to blindfold and gag you. This becomes far easier now that you can transmit or process radio-teletyped words and pictures in your personal computer, just as you would handle files by modem with an on-line service or bulletin board. The radio process works well in both directions, to transmit or receive words and pictures around the world with no restrictions--and no telephone or other charges!

 

Easy and affordable

Fax messages can be exchanged in the same way, as Chinese protesters for democracy have demonstrated, but it is the use of radio to send and receive electronic books, magazines, newspapers, and other publications that has such fascinating potential. The equipment required is surprisingly affordable and not that difficult to learn to use.

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At present, radio teletype communications are limited mainly to specialist activities, such as diplomatic traffic between embassies and their home offices, weather services, intelligence agencies such as the CIA, shipping, and the international news services. Although the radio waves are the most open of all the media, radio teletype has been a relatively closed medium, restricted to these special types of activities not so readily catered for by telephone links.

That is changing slowly, but the rate of change is likely to accelerate rapidly with the explosion in electronic publishing. The die has been cast already with the proliferation of domestic satellite dishes to capture television transmissions beamed via satellites. Those same satellites are already carrying a variety of publications in electronic format. The USA Today newspaper is printed at locations in the United States, Europe, and the Far East from computer text and graphic files transmitted by radio. There are similar operations by The Wall Street Journal and International Herald Tribune.

On a personal, self-publishing, scale, that extraordinary nomadic American writer Steven Roberts transmits and receives literary files via the solar-powered radio satellite transceiver mounted on his bicycle. But his newsletter and articles only travel part of the way to their readers by radio, and, like USA Today and other newspapers, the transmissions are in closed systems not accessible to the general public.

 

The radio newspaper

The first electronic publication by radio readily available to the general public was the daily newspaper broadcast by Swiss Radio International in French, German, and English. With a personal computer, a good shortwave radio, and about $200 worth of additional hardware, you could download such an electronic publication in your own home or office virtually anywhere in the world, then print out all or part of it on your printer.

This Swiss radio enterprise was short-lived, but it was the first substantial application of the concept of truly electronic home deliveries of newspapers, something that has been possible for years,

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but never effectively applied by either the telephone or cable television services. Now this whole field is being re-examined, fueled by the competitive scramble to exploit the hard-wired cable information highways in our homes and offices. Radio offers attractive entrepreneurial alternatives for those not blessed with cable facilities.

New software is constantly becoming available to expand wired and wireless publishing opportunities, and it can be quick and easy to get up and running. Living in southern Arizona, I have a 100-mile drive to the nearest bookstore selling European newspapers. Using Journalist from PED Software Corporation, my PC can tap into CompuServe's various news services and assembly a daily--or even hourly--newspaper customized entirely to the European topics that I define. I look forward to the day not far off when my shortwave radio linked to my PC will enable me to do the same with broadcasts from London, Moscow, and other world centers.

In all the hype about cable-based services, radio's vast potential is being overlooked because, the air waves being free, it does not appear to offer the same big profit. As an international medium, however, radio will play an important role in the chain of delivering electronic products and services. Radio must always continue to have an edge over the more rigid cable media because it is universal, free, and virtually immune to interference from commercial or political interests.

The possibilities for books to be published by radio are mind-boggling, and it would be particularly appropriate if a lead is taken by the venerable British Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC is the leading broadcasting service to combine traditional loyalty to the importance of the spoken and written word with the entrepreneurial commercial flair that makes its programs and its publications so successful around the world.

The BBC has long had a unique relationship with authors quite unlike that of any other broadcasting organization. As a reflection of this, about one-sixth of the Society of Authors' 5,500 members in Britain belong to The Broadcasting Group, and radio is regarded by many of them as the prime medium for their fiction and nonfiction work. That

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relationship between authors and broadcasters is no small factor in the BBC being a major supplier of programming to the PBS radio and television services in North America, the Arts & Entertainment cable channel, and similar broadcasting services in other parts of the world.

 

If you want to explore more thoroughly than is possible here the vast potential of radio for electronic publishing, turn first to Passport to World Band Radio, the best introductory sourcebook on the subject, with lively articles on every aspect of the shortwave universe. (The 24-hour line for orders worldwide is 215-794-8252.)

Publisher and editor-in-chief Lawrence Magne forecasts the future of electronic publishing by radio as offering opportunities similar to those achieved by the now-ubiquitous faxing of documents.

"Shortwave radio, unlike other international media, disseminates news direct and uncut by gatekeepers," he explains. "Shortwave-delivered news comes primarily in audio form--world band radio broadcasts. But its nonsequential form--book, magazine, or newspaper creation via RTTY [radio teletype] and fax--is potentially so cost-effective for organizations to transmit and individuals to receive that it recalls where office faxing stood ten years ago. It is poised to take off, providing savvy marketing and distribution are put into place."

 

How do you start publishing by radio?

If you want to prepare for viable publishing by shortwave radio, you can set up a receiving and transmitting (publisher and reader) system at remarkably low cost. First, you need hardware from an expert supplier. Some are featured in Passport, while local sources can be tracked down through the Yellow Pages and local ham radio clubs.

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You can get into this publishing environment for as little as $200 for a good portable shortwave receiver, plus about the same amount for a decoder to convert the signals into a format that your computer can recognize. However, it is more practical--and might be essential in some cases--to have a powerful desktop receiver. They start from about $400. If you want to transmit electronic publications by radio, shortwave radio transmitters of the types used by ham radio operators start at about the same price, and it is much easier now to get a license to operate these transmitters.

The total capital outlay (excluding the computer) for such a system can be under $1,000 in the U.S. Expect to pay more, however, for all electronic equipment in Europe and many other countries.

For free, hands-on, technical advice anywhere, tap into the friendly, cooperative spirit of local radio hams. A good starting point is to link up with your nearest amateur radio club. The American Radio Relay League is the umbrella organization for amateur radio in the United States. It can be reached at

225 Main Street
Newington, CT 06111
203-666-1541

There are similar organizations in many countries--the Radio Society of Britain, for example.

 

Snags and opportunities

Of course, radio electronic publishing is not perfect. Two major snags are that radio transmitting is a real-time medium, and the audience able to receive your texts is at present comparatively small. Your target markets must be alerted to the times and wavelengths when transmissions will take place, and, if you want payment for your works, you must build in similar incentives to those for distributing through on-line and shareware channels. The small size of the direct market is inhibiting, but electronic publishing via radio could become significant very quickly if it is picked up by major broadcasting organizations and other institutions.

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Perhaps The Monitor's World Service, the BBC, or Voice of America will come to regard radio publishing as part of their services to developing countries to disseminate out-of-copyright works, and to pay contemporary authors acceptable royalties for regular transmissions of copyrighted publications in electronic form. Although the audience among individuals might be small, the attractions for educational and research institutions and the business community are considerable, so those first books by radio broadcasts could be just the seeds from which large information trees grow.

For example, Monitor Radio could open each transmission period to Latin America with Spanish translations and original English texts from its own weekly and daily newspapers appropriate to high-school current affairs studies, followed by works on Christian Science for use in college courses on religious topics. The transmission times for compressed computer text files is very small, and the facilities to receive and process those signals could be available in virtually every major town throughout Latin America, where reception of the Monitor is good.

The BBC could beam into the English-language markets of Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, where it enjoys excellent reception, texts relevant to Open University correspondence courses, and supplementary documentation for its famous English by Radio programming. The Monitor's corporate supporters would identify many opportunities to be associated with the dissemination of texts to global or specific regional targets. British companies could pick up the tab to augment the exposure they get on the World Service's weekly documentary on innovative products.

Other radio services could use text transmissions to meet a wide variety of their needs. Radio France International, for example, has as part of its mission to promote the French language, which is under threat in many areas by the greater availability at lower cost of texts in English. Radio Japan/NHK is keen to enhance global understanding of Japanese culture, much of which is written and visual, and so can be communicated more effectively via computerized text and graphics files than in radio broadcasts.

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