RE: e-books and heritage

Subject: RE: e-books and heritage
From: Kevin McLauchlan <KMcLauchlan -at- chrysalis-its -dot- com>
To: "'PHILA -at- Mail -dot- VIPS -dot- com'" <PHILA -at- Mail -dot- VIPS -dot- com>, TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 14:37:40 -0500

Philomena Hoopes said:

> What frightens me is, first, the limited range of authors and
> titles that
> e-Books will be likely to offer; second, the factors that
> will determine
> that range; and finally, the limited lifespan of what could
> conceivably
> become the publication format of choice.
> Obviously, at this stage it is not an all-or-nothing dilemma.
> Paper and
> electronic media are likely to exist side by side very
> happily for quite
> some time, as did LPs and magnetic tape. But looking down the
> many of you are playing your music on LPs, and how many on CD or DVD?
> Blessed be the secondhand bookshops, libraries, and
> book-search agencies.

I admit to a similar uneasiness, for exactly those reasons.

On the other hand, whether your (our) fears become
reality might depend a lot upon the formats that become

Here's a thought, though... before writing was
widespread, there was quite an oral tradition.

One aspect of that tradition was that, while the
timeless stories found their way into everyone's
repertoire, at the same time everyone gave those
same [?] stories a personal interpretation/shade/
twist/overtone... They edited and added as the
mood (or local tradition, or the likely prejudices
of the bandit who just became king of the local
tribe) prompted them to do.

But, once writing became the way to carry and
present stories and poems, much of that variety
was frozen and lost. When you go to the trouble
of scribing an epic song, you MIGHT combine [what
you see as] the best of two or three versions,
that you happen to recall, or that are locally
available from minstrels and bards. But, that
means dozens or hundreds of variants become lost.

All that to say, the situation that you fear is
nothing new.

My take on the situation is this:

When books are distributed in printed form, the
ones that get into print are the ones for which
somebody is motivated to incur the costs. Usually,
that "somebody" is a publishing company with an
eye to a fat profit. But, there are lots of other
motivations and venues for expressing them. Plenty
of people resort to the vanity press for reasons
of vanity and for reasons of specialized audience.
Still, far more manuscripts are rejected by the
big publishers than are accepted, and the self-
publishers or users of vanity press are self-selecting.
They print THEIR stuff. They've got no reason to
print yours. Yours won't get printed until you
mortgage your Mom and become one of THEM.

Now, it seems to me that as we head toward eBooks,
a couple of possibilities loom:


Well, not really, but it got your attention. How

proprietary format

If the model that makes it big in the marketplace is
the Microsoft model, then eBook contents will be
encrypted and produced in closed formats that are
locked to particular technology. The naked ASCII
(or UNICODE?) text will be jealously preserved,
behind bars and security, by publishers.

In that case, what you fear will happen every few

If the model that makes it big in the marketplace
is the Linux and GNU and open-source model (of
literary publishing), then the text will be widely
available for any book, and the motivation for
distribution and inclusion in particular formats
will be tied to advertising revenue or other methods
of paying the people who create and promulgate.

That is, "Jerry Springer: My Life as the Boob of
the Tube" will become widely available as soon as
Jerry's ghostwriter hits the last [Enter].

But if you want it on your favorite brand of ebook,
you'll need to pay somehow to have it in the right
format and on the right media. If you want all kinds
of add-ons and annotations and other attractions,
you'll need to pay individual suppliers and incorporate
them all yourself, or you'll need to pay a Red Hat or
a SuSE or a Caldera equivalent to package them for you.

In that case, the raw content will exist as long as
there are people willing to give it computer storage
space, but the worthy works will be republished in
the new format of the day, every few years... using
that widely-available source text (in all its nakedness).

With that said, there's probably some truth to the
assertion, by Douglas Adams, that we techy-writer
types will at least have the opportunity to exert some
suasion regarding the model that prevails. For one thing,
we might have some say in which ebook formats receive
our docs when (in the next year or five) that becomes
an issue. By doing so, we have an opportunity to build
up some inertia in one direction or another.

Penguin? (linux penguin, that is...) ?

Whups! The crystal ball just went murky.

I guess real life *could* differ. :-)

Kevin McLauchlan
kmclauchlan -at- chrysalis-its -dot- com

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