Paperless Publishing-Colin Haynes - Chapter 5 - Section 3

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Catalogs with locks

Combining catalogs with various encrypting and locking devices, and the ability of disks to hold many compressed e-book files opens further distribution options. The declining cost of CD-ROMs makes instant telephone delivery of any title from a publisher's entire list a practical proposition. The basic concepts can be adapted to small

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operations, in which small presses and individual authors can make all or a selection of their works available on floppies or CD-ROMs.

Font and typeface companies were among the first to use this method, now spreading to other fields. It has many attractive features for publishing. You compile the files for the actual publications, and they are transferred to the catalog disc using a variety of compression and access-control techniques. Demonstrations, title screens, contents lists, and book extracts are loaded also, but these files do not have electronic locks, and readers are encouraged to browse from an introductory menu. These catalog disks are distributed to prime target markets, usually without charge. You might already be receiving some and realize how difficult it is to ignore these disks, unlike "junk mail."

If sales prospects are sufficiently stimulated by a demo or other promotional file, they need only make a telephone call to order a title, pay for it by credit card, and be given the key code that unlocks it to give them instant access. Impulse-buying inclinations are converted immediately into actual sales, and there are no delays, distribution problems, or shipping costs. Rainbow Technologies Inc. of Irvine, California is among the most experienced firms offering these services for those wishing to publish on CD-ROM. To get more information (and a demo disk), call 800-852-8569.

 

Dangle your dongle in front of buyers

Rainbow also deals in dongles, hardware devices that plug into the ports at the back of your computer and control access to software. Primarily developed as data security and anti-pirating software keys, they can also have electronic publications hard-wired into them, so that your book or collection of books is marketed as what looks like a slightly enlarged version of the plug on the end of your modem or printer cable. Publishing by dongle might seem a bit weird, but it could make sense for some applications, particularly those involving large files but for which CD-ROMs are not appropriate.

Dongles and controlled-access discs are particularly effective distribution media when you are offering a large number of individual items and a buyer wants instant delivery at realistic unit prices, rather

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than paying a lot up-front for an entire collection. Art, editorial, and video clips are some examples. David Dukes, the chief operating officer of Ingram Micro Inc., is one of a growing number of enthusiasts for electronic distribution this way, and thinks it might account for one in five software sales by 1995.

 

It is possible to be financially successful if you distribute on-line or on disk through the shareware and other routes without charging readers anything. Extend into cyberspace the concepts of sponsored and entirely advertiser-financed virtual publications that are appropriate to these media. An excellent example of this is Lynn Hildre's Vacation Alaska.

Lynn compiled a travel guide to Alaska containing editorial items high in reader interest, added practical data that a visitor to the state really needs, then found advertisers to generate revenue in return for the opportunity to promote their products and services. They also provided additional information of benefit to the end user. The whole package was assembled onto disks for shareware distributors, and in compressed files sent to bulletin boards so that it soon spread around the world.

As long as the ratio of advertising content to editorial is acceptable to the reader, an electronic guide can be expanded to almost any size to accommodate the number of advertisers wanting to participate. You eliminate many of the problems that print publications face of having to balance advertising revenue with increased print and distribution costs. You could have a thousand advertisements on a CD-ROM disk, if the demand was there, without significantly increasing your production or distribution costs.

Lynn set the price of an advertisement in the first edition of her Vacation Alaska at only $250. It was such an attractive deal that hundreds of businesses wanted to get into the next edition. The rates could easily be much higher for a guide devoted to a state with a larger tourist business than Alaska enjoys. In fact, the cost-per-exposure ratio

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that print advertisers use to measure the cost-efficiency of a publication could justify rates two or three times higher.

The Orpheus software package was used to compile Vacation Alaska. The program's creator, Rod Willmot, describes Lynn Hildre's venture as "a brilliant demonstration of how to make digital publishing work for everyone: the advertiser gets much better coverage than in print or on TV, the end-user gets an entertaining and useful infobase, and the author gets an attractive income with the guarantee of repeat business every year."

A consortium of writers and publishers was formed to produce similar state guides in Texas, Washington, DC, and Georgia. There is plenty of scope for an author to create a unique guide appropriate to the needs and character of his or her state. Orpheus also has the flexibility to include graphics and other features, and guidelines to develop CD-ROM editions if that proves viable. For details on Orpheus, write or call

Rod Willmot
535 Duvernay
Sherbrooke, QC Canada J1L 1Y8
819-566-6296

This is just one example of the many topics ideal for electronic publishing on disk and targeted at business travelers and vacationers, who increasingly plan trips on their desktops and use portable computers when traveling. Any such group that uses computers to process information is a prime target for an electronic publication that provides them with information that they need.

Of course, when distributing to such markets, remember to gear for a very high proportion of 3.5-inch floppies, the type used most in portables. However, flash cards are moving towards portable platforms in a big way.

Flash memory cards are sealed and very tough electronic devices about the size of a typical business card that are undergoing intensive

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development for use in portable computing devices. Despite their small size, they can hold an amazing amount of data--20 megabytes is becoming common, which not so long ago was an acceptable amount of storage capacity for the hard disk in a desktop computer.

PC cards, or flash memory, or smart cards, as they are variously called, are actually PCMCIA cards, meeting the standard set by the Personal Computer Memory Card International Association. The dimensions vary somewhat between types of cards, but in Version 2.0 of this standard, which is the same as the Japanese Electronic Industry Development Association release 4.1, the card can be up to 10.5mm thick and may contain a miniaturized hard disk capable of holding over 100MB of data.

Indeed, flash cards operate like fast hard disks, but consume a minute amount of power, so they can be used continuously for hours on the smallest of hand-held computing devices. Their costs continues to fall rapidly, and their efficiency and capacity steadily increase, so they have a great future for publishing large amounts of material in a very flexible format.

For example, you can include on a flash card an enormous amount of data and still have room for sophisticated applications programs to process that data faster and with less processing power than is achievable with CD-ROM. What's more, some flash cards can be written to, providing many opportunities for users to interact constructively with databases and other forms of publication. Updating becomes easier and more economical also, and there is greater scope for incorporating various security procedures.

Think about compressing your hard disk down to the size of your business card, and you can start to see this medium's enormous potential. These cards might not seem significant for volume electronic publishing at present, but they will become so, with portable computers likely to comprise at least half of all computer sales by about 1996.

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Some industry pundits believe that CD-ROMs, floppies, and even flash cards might be only interim media for a few years, until viable systems are established for most electronic publications to be distributed directly on-line over information highways from virtual bookstores and libraries, as well as directly from publishers and authors.

However, that forecast might prove as unreliable as the expectations at the start of the decade for the paperless office. I believe that there will always be significant numbers of people who do not want to go on-line often, or at all. These people prefer to build up their own collections of electronic publications, just as they have racks of magazines and shelves of books and videos.

Floppies, CD-ROMs, and perhaps smart cards and portable hard drives should therefore figure in your distribution strategy, particularly in situations where your title goes before the potential buyer and there is a touch-and-feel selling situation. This packaging can be vital for commercial reasons to give an e-book physical reality, even if this flies against so many of the strong arguments for virtual publishing. Packaging is discussed in detail in a later chapter.

 

There is a possible trend towards renting, rather than owning, computer software that could hold the key to making electronic publishing more viable for publishing houses and individual authors alike. This will only be appropriate for certain types of publications, with e-books having the enormous advantage over other rental operations that you do not need to get the actual volume that you rent back in good condition, or at all. Disks costs very little, while titles distributed on-line are only files that have no physical substance.

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It is possible to build into rental e-books restrictions on how long they can be used. The end-user would just telephone in and make a further credit card payment to get another code that extends the rental period.

Low-cost rentals might be the best way to build up long-term sales relationships. Visionaries such as Borland's Phillipe Kahn and Microsoft's Bill Gates have become increasingly frank about marketing tactics that involve establishing direct relationships with end-users of their products at almost any price. The aim is to establish an installed base of users who become corporate assets that you nurture and try to keep selling to many times for small amounts on each occasion. Receipts could far exceed within a year or two the previous marketing strategies of charging high one-time costs to make the first sale of a software product.

The practice of high initial prices was based on the need to quickly recover the enormous start-up and product-development costs incurred by many software companies. Now there is a tendency to see the cash-flow patterns needing to be very different, with the income from a customer flowing in drip-by-drip over a sustained period, rather than in a flood at first, then an arid period until--hopefully--an upgrade causes the next flood of money.

With the controls now available for marketing software on-line or via CD-ROM and securing direct payments by credit card, the previously contrasting philosophies behind marketing shareware and commercial programs is blurring. There is much more "try before you buy" of commercial software, and then the decision might well not be to buy, but to rent according to use, becoming a registered user of a full-featured program for a certain payment each month.

As networking and the ability to cost-efficiently collect small sums increases, we might get to the point where, for example, every time you use one of the major spell-checkers, you make a payment of a cent or two to the owner of the copyright of the dictionary or encyclopedia involved. That might sound far-fetched, but it is really only an extension of the already well-established methods by which charges are made for accessing on-line databases.

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Very important to book distribution in the United States is the attractively priced 4th-class book rate postal service. In principle, this same rate applies to videotapes, electronic publications, and hybrid hardcopy and electronic books. Regulations might change, so check with your local postmaster. I have recently been shipping significant quantities of printed books and videos by 4th class, and the savings have proved significant, although there is an element of inconsistency. Deliveries can be surprisingly quick, only a day or two behind first class mail for some destinations, and abysmally slow to others.

I have also had some consignments badly handled, so secure packaging is important. With this in mind, and as most electronic publications are much lighter than their print equivalents, you might prefer to use first class.

Overseas, in Europe for example, book rates (where they exist) tend not be anywhere near as attractive as in the U.S., giving electronic publications a further advantage in these markets. International airmail rates are high everywhere, often prohibitively expensive as a way of speedily distributing hardcopy books. Floppies and CD-ROMs, with their smaller bulk and lighter weight than paper, can make international publishing ventures more viable.

The small 3.5-inch disks travel safely with very little protection, as long as the outer envelope or packaging is reasonably strong. The larger floppies and CDs need stiffeners and very clear notices on the outside that the package should not be bent. In all mailings, identify the contents as magnetic or optical media needing careful handling and protection from electrical fields, excess heat, and so on.

If you distribute regularly to readers in countries where high duties are imposed, or where clearing packages through Customs and import controls can be difficult, expensive, and pose long delays, there are arguments for keeping the packaging and labeling of disks as simple and low in perceived value as possible, sending any invoicing or other

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monetary information by letter under separate cover. Often, disks can be shipped by letter mail along with documents and pass across frontiers with few hassles.

Of course, when your e-books are zapped over national borders by radio or telephone, it becomes almost impossible for import duties and other restrictions to be imposed upon them. E-books will make an important contribution if they result in the ending of taxation on information. A particularly intriguing situation arises over the great variety in the levying of state and city sales taxes in the United States. It is not yet clear how a product that has no physical substance or geographical location should be taxed, if at all.


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