RE: e-books and heritage (long)

Subject: RE: e-books and heritage (long)
From: "Alan D. Miller" <"Alan D. Miller">
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Thu, 13 Jan 2000 08:25:34 -0500

Kevin McLauchlan wrote:

<<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.>>

I agree, but let's continue this line of thought: electronic publishing has the
potential for (and a visit to Nuvo Media's web site will confirm this) lots of
folks to self-publish, and to do so very cheaply. Naturally, this means that the
really bad stuff that used to get screened out won't (Sturgeon's Law: 90% of
everything is s***.) It will become incumbent on the user to do his(her) own
screening. Personally, I think that 10% is worth the effort (most of them are
likely not to fit the commercial publishing rules and wouldn't get published
otherwise). This suggests a medium far richer than the current hard-copy
publishing system.

<<Now, it seems to me that as we head toward eBooks, a couple of possibilities
proprietary format

The National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) has, for the last two
years, sponsored conferences for just this issue. At the first conference NIST
formed an industry-wide working group to write an open standard for electronic
books. At the last conference the resulting standard was issued (Open eBook
Publication Standard 1.0). While this may not be perfect (ah, for a perfect
world), but it at least standardizes the file format for eBooks. Your viewer or
the tool you used to create the file may be proprietary, but the output file can
be viewed by any other system that supports the format.

Kevin hinted at something that was discussed at the Electronic Book '99
conference by a representative of the Association of American Publishers. To
wit: they want to make a profit, and to that end they love eBooks. They are
cheap to distribute (one poster described the costs involved with traditional
publishing and distribution). They can be encrypted so that one and only one
user can read a particular copy, and IT CANNOT BE TRANSFERRED. This is really
important to publishers. They want to be paid by every reader. And this whole
business of public libraries buying just a few copies of a title and letting
hundreds of persons read them FOR FREE, well ... if there was just some way to
make them pay. [I must point out, in all fairness, that the speaker's remarks
were not part of her scheduled presentation (an assessment of eBook security),
but were in response to an audience question concerning copyrights and "copy for

Clearly, the publishing industry is going to support whatever improves its
profits (well, publishers are not in the business for the fun of it and,
frankly, they do deserve compensation for their work). Proprietary, secure
formats or delivery systems suit that end. They do support the Open eBook
Publication Standard (OES) and participated in its development. Besides wanting
to avoid something akin to the Beta-VHS wars that stalled home video development
for several years, we can infer that an open standard format (but _not_ an open
delivery system) is attractive because (1) a publisher would only have to deal
with one file format; (2) any reader could purchase (operative word here) any
publisher's product and use it; (3) even with an open document format, a copy of
a title purchased by one person cannot be transferred to another person; (4)
authors' (an this is the really important bit) royalties can be tracked and
accounted for with extreme precision.

I could go on, and on, and on... but my dollar-two-ninety-eight is used up.

Al Miller
alan -dot- miller -at- educate -dot- com

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