Paperless Publishing-Colin Haynes - Chapter 6 - Section 2

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portable electronic publications faster, but Acrobat is better at compressing files, which could be vital if your documents include more elaborate formatting and use PostScript fonts.

 

Compare strengths
in real-world situations

You will probably use computer magazine reviews to make further comparisons, but bear in mind that the computing magazines tend to make their comparisons and rate features in an unreal world biased towards higher-end technology. Byte magazine, for example, compared the two programs in October 1993 on systems described as "minimum configuration." That was perceived to be a 486SX with 4MB of RAM, and a Mac SE/30 with 5MB of RAM.

These might be the minimum configurations for most of Byte's computing-oriented readers, who like to keep on or near the cutting edge of the technology. There are over 70 million personal computer users still a long way from that "minimum," however, and most publishers will have substantial potential for sales in this sector.

 

Many authors who already have their texts in digital form as word-processed files will get so fired up by the attractions of electronic publishing that they will want to focus entirely on the new medium without bothering with paper formatting and print-oriented typographic design. Remember, however, that the most important element in any publishing enterprise is the reader. Pause to consider how this improving technology will enable you to deliver your publications so that they become significantly more attractive to readers.

Rather than creating hypertext links and adding multimedia features to an already digitized text, it might be easier in some cases to add values from the results of the effort and expense already invested for

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print. There are particular situations where preserving print formatting's appeal requires the minimum of extra work. Obviously, if you already have periodicals, newsletters, magazines, or books that have special visual appeal, it could be beneficial to try to preserve these production values when they go digital.

For example, in the small print of the typical author's contract is a clause that, when your book goes out of print because the publisher sees no more profit potential in it, the rights revert to you. Often the publisher will release not just the rights to the text and illustrations, but to the whole print production, including the design and layout. In such cases, you usually have the option to acquire the lithographic film from which plates can be made for a nominal sum, giving you the opportunity to reprint at your own expense.

You don't need the film to go electronic, but can scan the laid out pages into a document-imaging or authoring program. In future, if electronic publishing develops as it should, you might want to revise author's contracts to give you the rights also to the computer files from which those litho films and the original sets of plates are made. Then, when your book goes out of print, you could go even more quickly and economically into the electronic medium with an edition that preserves the print design.

 

E-mags (paperless magazines) are an exciting new field because they can be produced and distributed to large potential audiences for little more than the time invested by their creators in the editorial process. As a result, the CIVNet academic network by 1993 had nearly 400 e-journals available, covering almost every conceivable magazine publishing category.

Some of the most unlikely journals that could never be launched, let alone survive, in print have been attracting large niche audiences. The Unplastic News, for example, is an eccentric, amusing publication that can exercise such publishing indulgences as devoting

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an entire issue to bald people. Unplastic News editor Todd Tibbetts says in Byte (September 1993) that "we have thousands of readers--and we don't pollute the world with paper."

Steve Hudgik has no doubts that "for anyone who has a message to get out to a computer literate audience, electronic publishing is the way to go." Switching his own newsletter for registered users from print to disk enabled him greatly to increase the size, and so promote his expanding product line, yet reduce publishing costs significantly. Quality was enhanced also by publishing in full color, which would not be cost-effective on paper for most small publishing ventures. Adding color to an electronic publication need not increase the cost at all!

The XLPLUS authoring programs, also available as shareware, can do a particularly good job for magazines and newsletters because they enable an editor to add those visual elements which are so important for the success of magazines in print (Fig. 6-1). A magazine on disk should reach out to its readers also, not by trying to mimic print, but by expressing a unique, welcoming personality exploiting the strengths of the electronic media.

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The XLPLUS story

"An on-screen document can--and should--be vastly superior to its ink and paper cousin," maintains one of the pioneers of electronic publishing, Charles L. Wiedemann, president of Rexxcom Systems, P.O. Box 111, Schooleys Mountain, NJ 07870.

Charles has been working since 1989 to create software that he dubs "displayware" to transform plain text into really impressive screen displays. His XLPLUS family of programs turns ASCII text into fully formatted electronic publications with graphical borders, special fonts, and other display features. The displays make text colorful, giving authors opportunities to add visual emphasis to words or phrases. The navigation through texts is intuitive and fast; your readers will still be able to enjoy great effects even if they have to run your publications directly from a floppy disk.

This is important, because many hard disks are overcrowded already, and so there is a reluctance to load software that might be needed only temporarily. It is a particular advantage when releasing e-magazines, which inherently have a shorter life expectancy than e-books, to ensure that they run well directly from the floppy drive and do not require loading onto a hard disk.

The XLPLUS series of text readers, based on earlier applications that had limited circulation as shareware, became very proficient publishing tools in 1993, and were used for the first major release by the Digital Publishing Association.

"It has taken thousands of hours of work and really talented teamwork over the past four years to get to this point," Charles recalls. "Now authors can create a sophisticated electronic publication very easily. It is even easier for the readers. They can type just one word that an author selects to launch his or her publication.

"The Decor-Edge Scenes are an exciting feature that we added after the main programming was completed," he continues. "It was one of those times when everything clicked into place, and it worked perfectly. These scenes are what we call 'Text in Graphics,' which we

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provide as TIG modules to enable authors to display their scrollable text files on a scene of mountains and waterfalls, or within the speech balloon of a cartoon character, or even as antique-style writing on a parchment scroll."

The basic concept of the XLPLUS family of software is simple. There are essentially three files. One, a COM or EXE file, manages how the electronic publication functions by controlling a file with a DEB extension containing the graphic Border, and another with a DET extension containing the Text. The managing executable files grab the DET and DEB files, and make them work together to display your publication with all the scrolling and other graphic display features. The facilities available to readers are displayed in a menu that appears when the F1 function key is pressed. All the instructions that readers need are on the screen and very intuitive.

 

Create batch files to make things easy

It is vital for e-magazines to make things as easy as possible for the readers by creating a batch file (a file with the BAT extension) that will set the whole process in motion automatically. You can name this file with a shortened form of the title of your publication, or some other appropriate identification, and put this name on the disk label. For example, if you call your publication mystory, write a batch file like this to get it up and running in XLPLUS:

echo off
hqsw
XL2000 MYSTORY
ega
vga

Save it as a plain ASCII text file to the same disk and directory as your DET, DEB and XL2000.EXE files. Call this batch file MYSTORY.BAT.

On the disk label, write "To start, type MYSTORY." When your readers type MYSTORY, they set off an automatic sequence in which the BAT file is activated and starts up the XL2000 program, which in

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turn loads the files containing your publication. Your publication then appears on screen, ready to go.

 

Newsletter Clip Services

Many newsletters are not sold, but produced to circulate within organizations to keep employees or members informed, and distributed externally to potential clients. These types of newsletter publishing are beginning to feature in electronic media, offering increased opportunities for writers and photographers.

Newsletter publishers can also obtain low-cost, high-quality editorial to flow easily into softcopy and hardcopy editions in a new form of syndication. Dartnell Corporation's ClipEdit service (800-468-3038) out of Chicago supplies 35 professionally researched and written editorial articles on a floppy disk ready to patch into either a print or an electronic newsletter.

The articles are tailored for various categories so that if, for example, you are a CPA who produces a regular newsletter for clients, you can pick articles on business and financial topics to add production values. A health center would select features on nutrition and exercise for the newsletter to its clients and prospects.

This is essentially the clip art concept extended to words, using electronic publishing techniques to reduce costs and add speed and convenience in distribution. No keyboarding is required by the client; the selected texts just flow off the disk into any word processor or publishing program. ClipEdit Operations Manager Judy Wolffer expects the service to grow as electronic publishing of newsletters expands, and she has plans to make good use of on-line services for her marketing efforts.

 

"Some day, all news will come this way" says the text on one side of the masthead of The ClariNews. "All the news before it's printed" proclaims the other side. "The electronic newspaper you read on your

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own computer--published 24 hours a day" declares the copy right under the title.

ClariNet Communications Corporation has been profitably delivering electronic newspapers via Internet for several years and has accumulated 40,000 readers. The cost can be as little as $1 a month for an individual user on a network, or around $11 for an individual subscription, still making it competitive with a printed newspaper delivered to your door.

"You get the speed of broadcast news along with the in-depth coverage of newspapers," says founder and publisher Brad Templeton. This virtual newspaper also is fully keyword searchable, and features over 30 new computing-related stories every business day in the accompanying Newsbytes magazine, which won the Computer Press Association award for Best On-line Publication.

There are various ways now available to build your own newspaper or magazine from on-line sources. The minimal time and effort involved make it practical as an individual project, particularly if you need selected information to further your business or career. The attractions are even greater for creating an electronic newspaper that can be published widely within an organization or externally to a special-interest group.

The information is readily available if you know how to get to it, which is now a task that can be left largely to software, without the need for expensive expertise in on-line searching. There are now over 4,000 on-line databases, and probably the best reference to them is the six-monthly Gale Directory of Databases (800-877-GALE). As journalists become more adept at making good use of these databases, the quality of coverage in commercial media should improve, while giving the editor of the smallest newsletter access to an international team of experienced correspondents.

For example, the Agence France-Presse, for whom I was an editor and bureau chief, can be accessed for news reports and backgrounders in English on parts of the world where the other wire services and news organizations have coverage gaps, notably French-speaking African and Asian countries. Some of these news sources,

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together with various electronic clippings services, are available to e-mail subscribers, including those getting their e-mail by radio on small hand-held computers.

A particularly interesting approach offered by PED Software Corporation's Journalist for Windows (Fig. 6-2) is the virtually automatic creation of a properly laid-out newspaper on your desktop. You tell Journalist what topics interest you or your organization, and it goes out and finds them through your CompuServe account. It even updates the information automatically at predetermined times, offering one-person editorial staffs the ability to knock off early and let the computer produce the evening edition. The layout can mimic a newspaper, which is particularly useful for printouts, and there is a sensibly wide two-column format that works as well on screen as in print.

This could be the basic tool on which to launch a publishing business, making it much easier for a small enterprise to create newsletters, magazines, and newspapers catering for niche markets inadequately served by print. Motor industry executives and managers, for example, are always hungry for news about their industry. Every manufacturer operates a daily clippings service for internal distribution. Not only can that task now be carried out more efficiently in-house, it can also be extended in terms of coverage, assembled into a professional-looking publication, and delivered rapidly to staff in a company's offices and plants all over the world. Or an external publisher could compile an e-line newspaper from on-line sources that covers general industry topics, with separate editions of specific interest to individual corporate subscribers.

I have been conducting a feasibility study for just such a publishing venture in South Africa, Korea, and Australia, which have very active motor manufacturing industries where managers have a real need for a daily or weekly electronic publication to keep them informed of what is happening on the international scene. Of course, copyright and reproduction rights issues loom as soon as you consider doing something like this for profit, because you are reselling original material. Each on-line service states clearly what forms of reproduction are covered by the basic fees, and where further clearances and payments are necessary.

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Serving the home office

There is particular scope to develop customized on-line newsletters for the nearly eight million Americans doing a significant amount of work at home. As a high proportion of them are telecommuters, linked to their main offices by modem, they are fueling the need for paperless publishing within the business community.

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E-newsletters are a great way for an organization to keep in touch with these distant employees, and help deal with the problem of isolation that is experienced by many of them. E-newsletters become far more powerful corporate communications tools because they can be distributed quickly and economically through existing e-mail facilities, increasing the likelihood that they will be read.

Lotus Notes is also an effective way of internally publishing to a workforce, including those who might not be permanently tied into a network but make only periodic contact via modem.

 

On-line in-flight magazines

The developments in electronic newsletters and magazines might soon greatly affect in-flight magazines, and even airport and rail station bookstores.

Large investments are being made to bring interactive multimedia, including electronic publications, to airline seats (coach as well as first class). Research indicates that, given the chance, passengers will spend a lot of money in-flight because they are receptive to all kinds of advertising messages when strapped into their seats. They won't just watch advertisements, however. The screens in front of them carrying electronic versions of in-flight magazines will need also to have quality editorial, yielding new opportunities for writers.

Travelers with portable computers are targets for e-books on floppies retailed through airport and rail station bookstores, or cheap enough to give away to business class passengers. It might become routine for in-flight magazines to have floppy editions that travelers are invited to take with them. The perceived value of such magazines is higher, but they actually cost less than the printed versions, with all their expensive color and paper stock.

Multimedia is spreading also into hotel rooms and onto cruise ships to compete with print for the business and vacationer traveler's time and money. The opportunities for such entrepreneurial publishing are much greater than with print, because the funding requirements are so much less.

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Llewellyn King emphasizes the concern among his fellow newsletter publishers about the ease with which electronic publications can be duplicated. Newsletter publishers have battled for years to try to control photocopying of their high-cost products, and met with little success. Their fears that publishing electronically just makes copying easier are well-founded. However, some publishing programs already incorporate a form of access or copy protection, such as password and encryption features, and these promise to become more sophisticated.

If it is important to you, make sure that these security and copy protection factors are included when selecting your electronic publishing software. Becoming too concerned with protecting your rights can be counterproductive, however. You don't want to be in the position of a store with such strong physical security that potential customers can't get through the door to inspect the goods! You might gain more readers and generate higher revenues if you accept that easy access will add more sales than are lost because of illicit copying. Factor in an acceptable loss level, just as supermarkets budget for shoplifting.

Many software publishers have found out that an illicit copy is not necessarily a lost sale. Distributing samples is a well-proven method to generate sales, and in electronic publishing your samples are manufactured and distributed at no cost to you. Piracy might actually create more legitimate sales for you in the long run than if your product had not been illegally tried by those who would otherwise not be exposed to it. This is the basic principle of shareware publishing, in which the most successful programs encourage, rather than try to inhibit, copying.

Experience in shareware has proved conclusively that allowing crippled versions--those inferior to the original--to circulate is nearly always counterproductive.

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