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What Does it Mean for Writers?
E-publishing is the publishing of reading material in electronic form. Although the outcome is the same as regular publishing - books are produced and distributed to readers who read them - the publishing process is very different. Instead of printing the books on paper and shipping them to bookstores, the books are created as computer files and downloaded to the reader's computer (or a specialized e-book reading device).
Because it is so easy to produce and distribute books using this method, e-books could result in significant new opportunities for writers. For one thing, it means you can easily produce and distribute your own e-books. Secondly, it means more small e-book publishers can get into the publishing business, resulting in more publishing opportunities.
Right now, the big player in the e-book business is Amazon.com with their impressive new Kindle e-reader and Barnes and Noble (http://www.bn.com) among the big bookstores. Their joint venture with Microsoft (http://www.microsoft.com/PressPass/features/2000/01-06barnesnoble.asp) has brought new credibility to the e-book business. But there are a number of smaller publishers such as Awe-Struck E-Books (http://www.awe-struck.net) and David Reilly (http://www.davidreilly.com).
And the pioneers of e-book publishing, the online technical book publishers, are still going strong. Some have been selling low cost downloadable technical books since the early days of the internet. Check out the downloadable books at www.easywindows.com
With more and more celebrity books crowding all other writing off the bookstore shelves, it is getting harder and harder for writers to get even very good books published. As a result, some writers are looking into the possibility of publishing their own books electronically and selling them over the internet. Or they may be starting to investigate the e-book publishers already in the business (so far, publishers are paying higher royalties for e-books than they do for traditional books).
So what does it take to e-publish a book? Simply stated, all it takes is getting the book into electronic form and providing a way for users to download it. This can be simple or complicated. To be read, an e-book must be displayed on some kind of computer screen. The simplest way is to enter the book into a popular word processing program - such as Microsoft Word. The book is ready for e-publishing. If a potential reader downloads the Word file, all they have to do is open the file using their Microsoft Word program. Or, you could create an HTML version of the book. That way anybody who has an internet browser (who doesn't?) can read the book on their computer screen. Or, if they want a "hard copy" of the book, they could print it out using their own printer.
The HTML version has some very attractive benefits: first off, any part of the book can include links to other parts of the book, or even to sites on the internet (if the reader is currently connected to the internet). And, if you know how to create HTML files, you can imbed very attractive graphics or even sound or video clips in your book.
Another alternative is to provide the book in Adobe Acrobat format, but this means the reader will have to have a copy of the Adobe Acrobat reader program on their computer and it limits the types of graphics you can embed in the book. Also, no links.
But the big e-book publishers are using none of the above. E-publishers like Barnes and Noble sell e-books in a format to be read by specialized readers, such as the Microsoft Reader. There are also specialized readers made by RCA, Glassbook, Nuvomedia, Softbook, and others. The reader has to get the specialized reader program that corresponds to a particular e-book. And none of those readers can be used with Macintosh or Palm computers.
But why would they make you get a specialized tool to read their e-books, instead of just producing them in one of the more universal existing formats? There are three main reasons, and they are rather obvious when you think about it: (1) using these specialized readers you cannot print out your own copy of the book; (2) you cannot make a copy of secure distribution e-books, and (3) once you purchase a book for one specialized reader you must use only that reader and you can only read the book on one computer (and the computer must have the specialized reader installed). In other words, you are locked into one supplier and you can ONLY read the book (no printing or copying) on one computer. (In case you have a laptop you use while traveling, Barnes and Noble does let you download the book twice.) Book sellers like Barnes and Noble maintain a record of which books you have purchased and downloaded, and, if you use their Microsoft book reader, you have to register it with Microsoft. It also means you cannot send the book to anyone else, not even as a gift. The bottom line: these e-book publishers are trying to establish a relationship with the buyer that is as exclusive as possible, and they are trying to make sure you do not copy the book or try to print it out.
Does the current state of e-publishing tell us what the future of e-books will be like? Probably not. For one thing, the raging battle between specialized no-copy, no-print readers and standardized reading tools like HTML that let you copy and/or print out the book will eventually be resolved. And currently the publication of e-books is a very specialized niche market; in the future, when better and cheaper display devices emerge, e-books will probably be THE way we read most books. It is so easy (and cheap) to publish and distribute books in electronic format, it undoubtedly represents the publishing method of the future. How far in the future? Well, it will probably be a continuous process: every year more and more e-books will become available until, someday, there will be more e-books published than printed books. Until then, the existing methods of buying book rights, printing books, and distributing them to bookstores will dominate the book selling market. The technology is here today, but, as always, it will take a change in the mindset of producers and readers to change the book business. In the meantime, check it out for yourself. Below are a list of FictionWeek links to internet sites that have information about e-books and e-publishing.
David Reilly E-publishing
Barnes and Noble
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