Paperless Publishing-Colin Haynes - Chapter 5 - Section 2

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Charitable objectives

Foundations and similar institutions would be attracted to such electronic publishing by radio. New opportunities would be created for them to meet myriad charitable objectives, from making classical texts more readily available to millions of blind people to tackling glaucoma in the Third World by promulgating new information about treatments.

So, although the primary audience for books and other publications by radio may seem very small, it could be extended through receiving and duplication/distribution facilities around the world. The benefits would be felt particularly in the areas worst served by conventional print publishing. In many countries books are ridiculously expensive and in limited supply, but personal computers can become steadily cheaper and more readily accessible. That could motivate many universities to become involved in publishing by radio as they and their students are the prime victims of the negative aspects of the print textbook publishing industry.

 

Shortwave is far from being the only radio medium that will fuel the demand for electronic publications. Spectrum Information Technologies, Inc. of New York estimates that by 1997 there will be some 20 million Americans using various types of wireless devices able to receive and transmit at least text files. Many of these mobile computers and personal communications tools will also be able to handle graphics and multimedia publications.

Spectrum claimed to control, through its patents, significant aspects of the technology that enables an electronic publication--or any data file, for that matter--to be transmitted or received via the cellular telephone network and other radio links. The company's patent for Direct Connect devices puts much of the hardware needed for wireless communications onto a single chip. This technology will,

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during the mid-1990s, enable personal communication devices to become ever smaller and more functional. So, when you have finished reading a new novel on a radio/computer device smaller than a conventional paperback book, it will be technologically feasible to download another title from the New York Times' bestseller list without leaving your beach chair.

 

Soon there will be a billion potential readers

AT&T, one of Spectrum's major clients, is forecasting a billion personal computer users by the end of the century, with an accelerating proportion of them regularly receiving electronic documents by radio. This could stimulate reading rather than threaten this important aspect of our cultural traditions. The opportunities and motivations for reading must increase as the new technologies enable so many people to have a pocketable wireless device that they can use to access an electronic publication virtually anytime or place.

If you are out on a lake in your bass boat and the fishing is slow, you will be able to download a book of poetry, a Zane Grey story, or the latest edition of The Economist into your personal communicator in between changing lures. You could even download a talking book; audio files of voice interviews are already being distributed successfully on the Internet. In less relaxed situations, when the need for information more quickly is paramount, developments in pager information services offer undreamed of possibilities.

 

Database publishing through pagers

For example, the research for my two books on fakes, forgeries, and counterfeits has resulted in a large database of information about all kinds of deceptions which I will publish electronically. It might pay me not to disseminate all the information I have, but to offer it selectively at different times and at different prices.

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With a hypertext search engine, information can be extracted from this database quickly and easily. Before hot new information goes into the latest edition of the major work, I can provide it as a premium service to registered readers or subscribers who need quick updates or references. For example, suppose an art or antique dealer at an auction in New York wants immediate, unbiased, expert information about the counterfeiting of a particular Dali print. There is such a print coming up for bidding in a few minutes, but the dealer suspects it might be from the same source as a similar limited-edition copy unmasked as a counterfeit in Chicago the previous week. Without leaving his seat in the sales room, he could use his cellular phone or other personal communicator to radio his query to my database, and receive information back to influence his bidding decision before the questionable print comes under the auctioneer's hammer.

The hardware capable of receiving such information anytime and virtually anywhere is already commonplace. It is called the radio pager, carried in the pockets of 15 million people in the U.S. alone--and as many again in other developed nations. The total could reach 100 million by the end of the century, with a rapidly increasing proportion of them alphanumeric pagers capable of receiving and storing short text messages for display on a small LCD screen.

Pager information services are still mainly confined to hot news of financial importance, such as stock prices and currency fluctuations, but the range of information being published this way is expanding. Also growing is the capacity of pocketable pagers to store increasing amounts of data transmitted by radio. Even if the pager's memory runs short, there can be enough in a radioed summary to indicate to the user whether it is worth downloading more details by computer or fax/modem through a line or radio link to the database. In such applications, an electronically published work could be the core product to attract business for the other specialist services linked to it.

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Fast-changing information

These trends are important to those who publish electronically, opening up all kinds of possibilities for projects that would never be viable in print. They are particular relevant if you deal in fast-changing information. Fairly timeless works that give overviews of a topic, such as my titles on counterfeiting, could be given away with no restraints as freeware on floppies or bulletin boards if they are the marketing "loss leader" to bring in paying subscribers for updates provided on-line or by radio.

You do not need to be an information provider in a national or international high-stakes area to take advantage of publishing by radio. Paging and other radio services are structured largely as local entities and may be able to set up facilities at a reasonable cost that will target a particular local special-interest group or event. Even short-term, niche-market projects can become viable with the flexibility and comparatively low cost of paging services that exploit users' "need to know." What great opportunities this technology offers for the authors about subjects such as philately, gemstones, or trading-card collecting, where prices fluctuate constantly and there are large events where buyers concentrate in thousands to shop!

The subscribers to your publications whether they be in print or on disk could have access to rented pagers on a localized radio transmission frequency covering the show. You transmit the changing details of inventories, prices, and where to find items in short supply. You use your expertise and contacts to gather the information, and then publish it for profit or to generate sales opportunities for your main publishing ventures.

 

Pager publishing power and pizzazz

There are many sporting and other types of events where such radio services can add power and pizzazz to the largely unexplored potential of electronic publishing. What a boon such a service would be at the giant Comdex computer convention, for example. We need to rethink conventional concepts of communicating in general, and

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publishing in particular, to take advantage of these opportunities. You might profit greatly by mixing media, perhaps only infrequently using radio's flexibility and speed to augment other ventures in print, on-line, and on disk.

Again, consider my fakes and forgeries publishing ventures as an example of what might be done. There are many major antiques fairs with hundreds of sellers and a bewildering selection of items on offer. Collectors and dealers who buy my books or subscribe to my newsletters would have the edge with a radio paging service tapping the expert sources I could line up on the good and the bad deals to be found. I could charge premium prices for such a service that alerted buyers to reproductions and outright counterfeits; you could do something similar in your specialty.

 

Maximize profitability by recycling your information

With residents of big cities in North America having access to 500 or more communication channels in the foreseeable future, there is obviously going to be a large demand for material that only a rapid increase in many forms of electronic publishing will be able to fill.

When evaluating these new, and sometimes seemingly odd, distribution methods for electronic publishing, always bear in mind that publishing information several times over maximizes its profitability. I remember well sitting in the San Francisco garden of a millionaire publisher, listening in awe as he revealed how his success was built on clever distribution tactics and repeat sales of important facts.

When his reporters and editors got hot new information, they would generate immediate revenue from it by sales to a small circle of subscribers paying very high premium prices for customized, immediate reports on topics that really interested them.

That same information would go out again in less expensive, but still premium-priced, weekly newsletters to wider target groups with a

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well-defined need-to-know. Then the facts would be recycled again in a range of monthly magazines with large readerships and low cover prices because most of their profit came from advertising. Much of the same information would continue generating revenue for months, sometimes years, by being incorporated into detailed reports of a particular sector of technology or business activity, or into conventional books that this publisher also produces in large numbers.

The same principle of recycling your information can be applied to many small publishing enterprises, and becomes far more practical if you fully exploit the increasing distribution and marketing opportunities offered by electronic media of all kinds.

 

The proliferation of independent and commercial on-line services accessible by any computer linked by modem appears to solve all the problems of electronic book distribution. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Only a minority of the services, albeit some of the biggest, offer effective methods for selling, delivering, and collecting the receipts for individual electronic books. Many titles are not appropriate for this method of distribution because a large proportion of their target markets is not using on-line services frequently enough, or at all.

Also, book-length texts can be inordinately time-consuming and expensive to download, particularly if they have any multimedia elements. That will change as cable television companies provide special boxes to enable your PC to connect to the Internet via fiber-optic lines, increasing the data transfer rate dramatically. Although 40 million homes in the U.S. are expected to be connected in a fiber-optic cable network of some kind by the year 2000, it is by no means clear just how many of them will be generating a serious demand for the electronic products and services being touted.

By 1994 nearly 30 million American households had computer systems of some kind, but many of them were not being used very much. Even among recent purchasers, surveys indicated that nearly one in five of the home systems was being used less than five hours a

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week. Multimedia will increase home computer usage, but it remains a big step for the majority of home users to go from playing games, word processing, or doing accounts on a computer, to hooking up and going on-line, particularly trying to navigate the complexities of the Internet.

With these facts in mind, you might do better to focus your on-line efforts to promoting your works and promulgating the information about where and how to buy them. The actual distribution could be as physical entities on disk that you mail to customers, as encrypted or otherwise protected files on-line or in catalog and shareware CD collections, or as files that you transmit directly to customers by modem, or which they can download from your own bulletin board.

 

The Internet

Defining the Internet is rather like trying to describe a rapidly morphing image. It just keeps changing and evolving all the time, so what is not possible this week might be readily achievable the next. Also, as the network gets larger and more complex, other on-line facilities for marketing or distributing electronic publications become available--and perhaps more profitable.

The Internet began as several small, virtual academic and scientific communities that the U.S. government fostered during the 1970s and 1980s to help communications between widely scattered researchers. Now it just keeps on growing under its own momentum and comprises over 10,000 individual networks. It has shot past being a virtual village, to become a virtual city, and now a virtual nation with somewhere between 15 and 30 million users (see Fig. 5-3).

By the end of the decade, there might be more people interacting with each other over "the Net," as it is popularly known, than live in either the European Economic Community or North America. Consequently, it is expanding as the largest identifiable market and distribution channel for book publishers, as shown by Infonet booths appearing for the first time in 1993 at the American Booksellers annual convention and the Frankfurt Book Fair.

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Membership of a university or some other institution used to be necessary to pass through a gateway into the Net, but now that facility is available to anyone through commercial on-line services. They vary in the costs imposed and the ease of the interface they provide. Also, in making your choice, select a gateway that caters best for your particular interests. You are no longer visiting a virtual village community where you can explore and meet nearly everybody quickly.

Think of it instead as coming to the U.S. for the first time, and needing to be specific in setting up an itinerary. Having your own personal guide would help, and that becomes possible with the new "agent" search software becoming available. With coding similar in some respects to the virus and worm programs that roam around networks, these agent applications can be briefed with the categories of information you need, or the contacts you want to make, and then let loose to roam on your behalf.

Each gateway to the Net has distinctive characteristics and caters to a particular type of user. For example, the BIX gateway to Internet is an extension of the virtual community where thousands of computing

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professionals make their on-line homes. Any technical problems that you might have or any research you are doing on computing-related issues can be directed easily at the appropriate experts through BIX's special interest group conferences, including one devoted to Internet matters.

As with most services, BIX now has a Windows interface to make things easier. You can get onto BIX with any communications program by dialing 800-695-4882 and entering BIX.BYTE39 at the name? prompt. There is also a toll-free voice line for queries (800-695-4775) and various free time introductory offers.

America Online also has a graphical interface for entering the Internet universe through its gateway. Called the Internet Center, you can even access it through some of the PDAs (personal digital assistants) that run special editions of America Online. For more details, call 800-827-6364.

For general information about the Net, call the Network Information Center at 800-444-4345, or read magazines such as Internet World (800-632-5537, or 071-976-0405 in London). There are a number of useful books also, with good ones for beginners including The PC Internet Tour Guide by Michael Fraase from Ventura Press, and Daniel P. Dern's, The Internet Guide for New Users, from McGraw-Hill.

Daniel demonstrated how to use the Internet for promotional purposes by uploading his book's introduction and table of contents, together with ordering information, onto the Net. This is now becoming routine for significant numbers of authors and publishers.

Even the biggest names in fiction are finding it worthwhile to get involved increasingly with the on-line promotion and distribution for their print books. Stephen King's 50-page short story, "Umney's Last Case," was released as a text file on the Net three weeks before the Nightmare and Dreamscape collection in which it's featured was released by Viking as a paperback.

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Interacting with readers

On-line services are bringing readers and authors directly together, as well as disseminating information about books--not just information to help the marketing, but discussion, criticism, and general debates on a wide variety of topics. Authors of both fiction and nonfiction can expect that going on-line to participate in authors' forums, in which they interact with readers, will become more frequent than the traditional author tours.

Some authors will find it worthwhile to establish their own on-line forums or meeting rooms with readers. You could do this with your own bulletin board, but will probably find it easier to work through one of the on-line services. Their staffs can be very helpful if your proposition seems likely to generate significant traffic.

Going on-line can be a very effective way of gathering research for a future book, as well as gauging reader reaction and sales for one already completed. It certainly need not be as expensive or time-consuming as having to travel to do interviews or make personal appearances. A big advantage is that you can time-shift, working at times of your own convenience to call in and examine messages left for you, then go off-line to compose replies.

Real-time conferences or meetings on-line can be built into actuality events with the potential for greater participation and impact. They can also be used to launch a more sustained bulletin board or e-mail interactivity with readers.

 

Very few of the over 50,000 public bulletin board services (BBSs) in the United States actually make a profit. Probably fewer than one in five even covers its costs. But that's hardly surprising, as only a minority seriously set out to be profitable, and an even smaller proportion use their boards primarily as a means of marketing published material in either electronic or print form, or both.

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