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IT has never been possible to tell a good book by its cover with any degree of certainty. E-books, which do not have covers at all, present a particularly intriguing challenge when they must be moved out of cyberspace and into the real world, where physical appearances are very important.
Once you have freed a publication from the bulk and other physical restraints imposed by paper, you gain many new opportunities for creatively packaging and presenting it. Effective packaging is vital for many types of electronic publications, particularly those that will rely on point-of-purchase sales, or when they land on the desks of prime prospects needing to be wooed by impressions of substance and professionalism.
Packaging is required for practical purposes as well as to enhance images. Your floppies or CDs must be packaged to withstand the rigors of mailing and shipping services, so that they arrive in pristine condition. Almost invariably, you will need to include some hardcopy documentation in your package. Such documentation typically contains basic details of the systems on which your publication will run and instructions for bringing it up on screen.
You might want to go with very impressive packaging if you have an appropriate market, or an exceptional title such as an expensive reference or coffee-table book/disk combination. A superb example of this is From Alice to Ocean, the story of Robyn Davidson's 1,700-mile trek by camel across the Australian outback. It combines a large-format photo book published by Addison-Wesley with an interactive CD for Windows and Macintosh systems from Claris Corporation, both in a shrink-wrapped cardboard tray showing off the beautiful artwork from every angle.
Nestling securely behind the book in the base of the tray is a CD-ROM, also attractively printed on its top surface. The book and disc work excellently together to entertain and provide information about the culture of the Aboriginal people and the geography of the Australian desert. The same CD features audio tracks in which Robyn
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describes her journey, which can be played on a standard audio CD player. There are even tips about photography on the CD-ROM from Rick Smolan, who took the pictures and is well-known for his Day in the Life series of photographic books. Look for this remarkable example of how e-books can be packaged for maximum shelf appeal, giving them the kind of physical substance that people like to have in gift books. No wonder Publishers Weekly said that this was a foretaste of book publishing of the future.
Also worth seeking out in stores is an interactive CD-ROM video game in which the packaging is a game as well. Aris Multimedia Entertainment of California packaged its Video Cube: Space title with a complementary game, rather like Rubik's cube, made of cardboard to complement the virtual game played on screen (Fig. 8-1).
This is a particularly imaginative use of the multimedia publishing format as well as the packaging. The program begins with an animated cube comprising many animated video fragments hurling themselves through space. The reader must unscramble the pictures on each side of the cube to run a series of NASA video sequences accompanied by high-quality music.
Excellent packaging might exist already that is appropriate to the topic of your e-book and will attract attention and enhance its
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perceived value. A brilliantly simple example of this is The Fractal Design Painter program. It carries a nearly $300 retail pricetag, but is delivered with disks and manuals packed inside a standard one-gallon paint tin. (Your local hardware store sells such tins for about $1.25 each.)
An attractive label turns that mundane tin into strong and attractive packaging for this commercial paint program--packaging so good that it often becomes a display piece for an office or studio.
Seek out or create unusual and economical packaging appropriate to the contents of your title. Without incurring great expense or making your title unduly bulky, there are hardly any limits to the packaging of e-books that will help them to be commercially successful. Authors also get the tactile pleasure that a printed book provides, by something tangible to have and hold.
Creative packaging can be a big help when trying to sell through computer stores, bookstores, and nontraditional outlets for publications (Fig. 8-2). Just as printed books have broken into many nontraditional book-retailing categories, so can publications on disk go into specialty stores, hardware and home supply centers, drug stores, souvenir shops, and many other sales outlets that cater for the same consumer categories as your subject matter. The acceptability of your electronic publication by retailers for whom the concept of selling software is novel could be influenced very much by its packaging.
Distinctive packaging that gets exposure in reviews or television appearances will help with any retail, direct mail, or other selling activities in which you are engaged. If you are doing any space advertising in print media, showing packaging that will be remembered helps to convert prospects to sales.
Even for limited, noncommercial distribution, you might want to package your disks in a fun or unusual way that is appropriate to their content, author, and target readers. A floppy-based family chronicle for distribution to relatives and friends at Christmas could be
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packaged attractively, for example. A completely different approach to the same idea would be taken for an e-brochure and agenda promoting professional consultancy services in conjunction with an up-market seminar.
In some situations, you might not need to create any physical or visual impact until your reader sees your title screen on the monitor. If you rely on distribution by modem, physical packaging might not be an issue at all for you. However, there are equally important
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virtual packaging considerations. You must compress your files and present them in formats acceptable to the sysops (system operators) controlling the bulletin boards to which you wish to upload.
Practical ease of use and aesthetic appeal are important when your files are eventually opened by your readers, so it is important to make the screens of the title and contents particularly attractive, with the text display easy to read on a wide variety of monitors--including the liquid-crystal displays of portables. The better authoring programs provide various ways of achieving these virtual packaging objectives.
When sending e-books on floppies to shareware distributors or reviewers, the physical packaging should be impressive as well as protective. By adding visual appeal, you can help your work stand out from hundreds of other submissions received every week.
To get a good sampling of the packaging options open to you, I sought input from three very different enterprises, each illustrating how a small author-publisher with limited resources can cost-efficiently package floppies in image-enhancing ways.
One example comes from Mexico, with a format that enables a business periodical on floppy disks to compete, in a conservative market, with conventional print magazines in retail outlets. The two other sources of packaging expertise have nothing in common except their capacity for great creative designs. Pat Baldwin is a successful self-publisher of the home-based small business genre, while Creative Disk is a leader in printing and packing floppies for big corporations as well as for small independent enterprises.
Pat Baldwin's enterprise is small, in more ways than one. Tiny, in fact--a one-woman business in the little Arizona mining town of
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Bisbee where she produces miniature books. Pat's books are three-dimensional works of art in limited editions that sell almost exclusively to the 450 members of the Miniature Book Society. To meet the standards for this category of book, each volume must measure no more than three inches high or wide. That is smaller than a 720K disk, but these miniature books could accommodate flash cards (discussed in chapter 5).
These cards could become an important e-book medium, and are being used already for titles ranging from the Bible to phrase books for foreign travelers. Even the texts of large encyclopedia can be compressed to fit onto one of these tiny data storage devices. The fact that there is already an established standard for miniature books makes their format attractive for hybrid, limited-edition, print and e-books on cards.
Even if you do not plan to distribute on electronic media that can be accommodated within the strict limitations of collectible miniature books, the principles for packaging flash cards can be extended to accommodate the slightly larger 3.5-inch disks that are now the most popular floppy and CD formats, and even the larger 5.25-inch floppies.
It would be good for electronic publishing generally if authors and publishers could stimulate a demand for collectible limited editions of outstanding merit and intrinsic physical value. The miniature formats of this media makes blending them with print in tiny works of art an attractive proposition, and Pat Baldwin and I have been working to do this with a commemorative edition for the tenth anniversary of the Shakespeare Authorship Roundtable.
Pat's miniature books sell strongly at upwards of $60 each. Most are more expensive than this, but still her editions sell out quickly because collectors and dealers are not price-sensitive for a quality miniature book, and might well not be either for one incorporating an electronic medium. They can expect their miniatures to appreciate in value more certainly than stamps, coins, gold bars, or real estate. One of Pat's titles that cost $60 three years ago is now trading at over $1,000.
Pat does all the layout, typesetting, illustrations, printing, and binding herself, making very effective use of a PC and color inkjet printer.
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She has also written some of the 22 titles that her Peque–o Press has produced.
The main lesson that Pat's success teaches electronic self-publishers is to throw away all preconceptions of how books and computer software should be physically packaged. (Book packagers, as the industry now uses the term, are specialists who bring together various elements, e.g., writers and artists, for the creation of books that they sell across a number of media platforms. They, too, should flourish in the new electronic publishing environment.)
Pat's miniature volumes go beyond conventional covers, printed pages, and boxes or sleeves. She designs her books so that the content and the packaging physically and visually reflect a common theme. Many open with concertina folds or cut-outs. One has hundreds of minute cut-out butterfly wings that add a whole new visual dimension to the text about butterflies--the kind of approach you might want to consider for poetry e-books. Another deals with collectible minerals, and has a circle cut in the center of all the pages right through the book to display an azurite specimen mounted on the inside back cover. You admire the mineral as you read the text, and the two make a unified visual display.
Origami folds form a gaily colored envelope for a collection of poems, each on tiny cards contained inside. Pat showed me how this concept could be adapted to make unusual packaging for floppy disks. Paper-folding by authors is not a new idea; it is quite common in Asia, where paper was invented and revered for itself, irrespective of whether ink has been smeared across it. Japanese e-book publishers might consider building on their culture's tradition of using folded paper for the ceremonial wrapping of gifts.
In the West, the poet Shelley and author Lewis Carroll were fascinated by origami. Alice in Wonderland was one of the first children's classics to appear in several e-book editions, and I am sure that Carroll, wherever he is, would be delighted to hear of plans for one on a floppy, incorporating the original illustrations and packaged
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in an example of the origami fishing boats that he folded to entertain the children of the Duchess of Albany.
Another of Pat's books has the hardest of hard covers that I have ever seen: a ceramic sculpted front cover that she made from one of the new generation of polymer modeling materials. You might be able to create such rigid packaging from a variety of craft materials that would both enhance and protect a floppy disk.
Still another of Pat's titles, about the universe, opens out so that a concertina fold linking the pages forms a canopy depicting the night sky. A bed-time story has a padded fabric cover depicting pillows and quilts, and it nestles in a book stand in the shape of a miniature brass bed frame. Both point the way to new and imaginative treatments for disk containers that appeal to both adults and children. You might well be able to package disks of data, poetry, or fiction in ways that make them far more marketable as gifts, souvenirs, or commemoratives. For business occasions, they offer new alternatives to the jaded selections of corporate gifts.
Visiting Pat's design studio and print shop emphasizes the principle that you can be very successful when self-publishing to very small markets, if you meet the essential needs of those strongly motivated to want your type of publication. Pat needs to tell only 450 people in her database that she has a new book, and the immediate response is usually enough to sell out an entire edition at a satisfactory profit.
Pat also demonstrates vividly that there is no limit to the formats in which a printed book can be packaged. The same goes for disks and any accompanying software manuals, providing that you are not restricted by the dictates of retail display conventions. Printed books have been greatly inhibited by bookstore requirements for titling on the spines for shelf display. This has drastically limited the production
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of spiral-bound books, which are so practical for the reader and offer the author an economical binding alternative for short self-published print runs.
The creative people at Fractal Design Painter went to Creative Disc, Inc. in Campbell, California when they wanted equally powerful packaging for their demonstration disks. The people at Creative Disc are experts in customizing demo disks, a form of electronic publications on floppies that must be produced economically in large quantities, with packaging that protects the disks during mailing or rough handling at trade shows and other venues. The company caters also to smaller enterprises with short runs who can benefit from the expertise and experience gained on the big commercial jobs.
The extensive research undertaken by firms distributing demo disks emphasizes the importance of enhancing the appearance of both the disks themselves and their packaging. An attractively customized disk will rarely be thrown away or even reformatted for re-use. It has a tangible value and should get a message across far more efficiently than, for example, a brochure that has to compete with other printed materials in a day's typical junk mail.
One test-marketing exercise in the Netherlands revealed that 85% of the 5,000 prospects sent a disk promotion about investments took time to examine it, and most of them went on to spend several minutes studying the contents of the disk. That kind of response exceeds the wildest dreams of direct mail marketers. Treat your disk as a valuable medium, and as part of your marketing strategy give very serious consideration to enhancing its appearance and consequent impact on your readers.
"This need not be expensive," disk packaging expert Jim Moreton maintains. "It is economical to customize disks even in small
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