E-Books, E-Publishing


E-books are a hot topic in the publishing world. Since I receive a number of inquiries regarding them, I thought I would post a recent article from ZDNet News.

Is your work suitable for an e-book or e-publishing? Read this article on e-books and I'll add my own comments at the end.

First, though, some basic definitions. Essentially, "e-publishing" is when you have your book online to be downloaded onto a user's computer. These books are stored online until someone downloads them to be read at their leisure. An "e-book" on the other hand, is an electronic book that can be read with a special hand-held computer, although they can also be read on a regular sized computer.

Now on to the article.

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E-books are facing a fuzzy future

August 9, 2000

E-books: An idea still ahead of its time

Johann Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press, never received the kind of adulation from his 15th-century contemporaries that his invention garnered from later generations.

By the same token, the arrival of the innovative technologies opening the way for electronic books is going to be appreciated more by later adopters than by the current generation of book lovers.

Not that its proponents -- with Microsoft playing the role of drum major -- aren't giving it the old college try. Along with Barnes & Noble, the giant software maker is making a big splash to convince book lovers that it can deliver an on-screen reading experience that approaches reading text on paper.

But even the best public relations effort is going to fall short for one simple reason: The technology isn't ready for prime time.

The Microsoft Reader is still only available for desktop and laptop computers. Because of a glitch, the release of a version of the Reader for PocketPC owners supporting e-books isn't going to be immediately available.

And even if it were available, what would really change? Is anybody really up for an all-nighter reading "Moby Dick" on a handheld? How about a laptop or desktop? I don't know about you, but slugging through the saga of Captain Ahab and the great white whale -- sitting bolt upright in front of a screen, paging through all that text, mouse click by mouse click -- isn't my idea of a wow evening.

On the Horizon

And yet all these halfway steps are well worth the effort because, ultimately, the potential of electronic books is going to live up to the promise.

I'm fond of the e-book idea for another reason: It represents the end of the veritable death penalty on scholarly and specialized works. Book retailers prefer to sell formulaic tomes targeted at a popular audience. Hey, these guys can't sell enough Danielle Steel, but good luck finding an updated version of Oswald Spengler's "Decline of the West," which was published in 1922.

All that goes by the by when e-books become a reality. Since the content will be in digital form, inventory considerations are no longer going to determine who lives and who dies.

What you need to make this happen is a lightweight, low-cost and durable tablet-size device that displays text that is close in quality to a book.

Microsoft is working on such a device. In fact, the company offered a sneak peek of a prototype to reporters at its Microsoft .Net briefing earlier this summer. But that project remains a work in progress, and the company remains far from releasing a commercial version of the product for delivery to the market.

A similar idea has been kicked around at Sun Microsystems. More than a year ago, Bob Glass, who then directed the company's science office, showed me a video depicting a newspaper tablet, replete with wireless and multimedia hyperlinks. Sure, it was closer to Flash Gordon than reality. But the general theme -- portability, multimedia and crisp text -- echoed the one sounded by Microsoft.

The exciting news is that the industry is groping toward this still uncertain, intriguing future. And it's only a matter of time before somebody gets it right.

--by Charles Cooper, ZDNet News

My Thoughts

So is e-publishing right for your book? If you're writing fiction, then I don't think so. Fiction is often best enjoyed curled up in front of a crackling fire on a rainy day. It's hard to imagine that we'll be enjoying a good computer hand-held any time soon in the same way we enjoy a good paperback book. That's not to say it won't happen, I just feel there are a lot of improvements needed before we all start walking around with Star-Trek style mini-readers. There are actually explorations into developing rewriteable books that are essentially Etch-a-Sketches; you plug them into a computer and the new text is downloaded into the "book" and the "text" on the page rewrites itself.

E-publishing does give a writer one more avenue to use and one can never have too many of those. This is particularly true if you are a self-publisher. In addition to selling your paper book, you can have your book online at minimal cost and offer this as just one more way to sell your book. This may also appeal to certain authors who will have technically oriented audiences (such as authors of techno thrillers). Such audiences will be more inclined to read books on their computer screens.

Also, if you're a self-published author--but what you are really interested in is moving into traditional publishing (because you've gotten one too many rejections and want to prove these haughty publishers wrong)--then e-publishing can give you an inexpensive way to test the waters and show prospective publishers that you do, in fact, have a viable book.

However, if you are writing a non-fiction book, with an admitted small following, then it could be a very good idea to e-publish. This can be especially good for engineers, doctors, educators, and so forth that will have a fairly limited audience.

The important thing, though, is to choose markets that are appropriate for your book.

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