If I’m So Smart, Why Ain’t I Rich?
From an Amazon.com News Release, July 19, 2010:
- Over the past three months, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 143 Kindle books. Over the past month, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 180 Kindle books. This is across Amazon.com’s entire U.S. book business and includes sales of hardcover books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the number even higher.
- Amazon sold more than 3x as many Kindle books in the first half of 2010 as in the first half of 2009.
- The Association of American Publishers’ latest data reports that e-book sales grew 163 percent in the month of May and 207 percent year-to-date through May. Kindle book sales in May and year-to-date through May exceeded those growth rates.
- On July 6, Hachette announced that James Patterson had sold 1.14 million e-books to date. Of those, 867,881 were Kindle books.
- Five authors–Charlaine Harris, Stieg Larsson, Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, and Nora Roberts–have each sold more than 500,000 Kindle books.
Here Come The Paperless Books
by J. Neil Schulman
SoftServ Publishing Services, Inc.
Copyright © 1987 by J. Neil Schulman.
All Rights Reserved.
Logoright (L) 1987 by J. Neil Schulman.
The SoftServ Concept
SoftServ Publishing Services, Inc., is a recently formed
company creating the new information-media service industry of
Electronic Mass-Market Trade Publishing. The types of Works
previously available only as bound books–novels, anthologies,
self-help books, biographies, cookbooks, etc.–will be made
available as text files accessible on computers, either by
purchase of disks or as downloads via telephone lines using
modems. Once available on computer, they will be available to
monitors, to printers, to voice synthesizers, and–ultimately–to
pocket-size electronic “book players.”
Publishing: History versus Ideal
Publishing exists both as an historical development and as a
We need not deal here with much of the history: it is too
richly documented elsewhere. Still, we can note that since it
began in earnest with the invention of movable type by Johann
Gutenberg over five centuries ago, it has been assumed that
publishing occurs when a composed Work is set into type or onto
plates, when type or plate imprints ink onto sheets of paper,
when those sheets of paper are bound together into books or
periodicals, and when multiple copies of those imprinted books or
periodicals are distributed and marketed to people interested in
reading that composed Work.
As a theoretical game, publishing is far simpler: it is any
efficient and desirable medium for a composed Work to be made
available to those wishing access to it. This implies two
ultimate players: the Author of the composed Work, and the Reader
of it. All other players are Mediators between Author and
Reader. Further, Author and Reader each have an idealizable goal
of transmitting the Work from one to the other with as little
mediation between them as possible.
The Author’s Ideal is to create a Work that fulfills both
some internal goal (such as self-expression) and some external
goal (such as proselytizing or making money), to inform all
potential Readers of its information or entertainment value, and
to have it unceasingly available to all Readers who desire it.
The Reader’s Ideal is to have as varied a choice of Works as
possible for information and entertainment, to have elegant tests
to determine which of those Works are desired (and filter out
those which are not), and to have such Works available, as
painlessly as possible, whenever and wherever desired.
This article will proceed on these assumptions as follows:
First it will analyze the process, then demonstrate the
failures–and note success where due–of the current Trade and
Mass-Market Book Publishing Industry in serving these defined
ideals of Authors and Readers. It will then analyze and
demonstrate how the currently emerging technological media of
Computers and Data Communication can more-closely approach the
ideals of both Authors and Readers.
Second, it will show how SoftServ Publishing Services, Inc., is
creating the new information-media service industry of Electronic
Mass-Market Trade Publishing.
Note that the new industry is not electronic book
publishing. We are here proposing a new kind of publishing in
which the very concept implied by the word “book” needs to be
redefined, delimited, and in some cases discarded. Creation of
any new industry should never be looked upon as anything less
than mightily formidable. In discussing publishing that has no
ultimate need for paper, ink, glue, or binding, this task must,
at the start, seem daunting.
Authors write–publishers publish, critics critique, stores
sell, libraries shelve, and readers read–books. When one begins
by telling Authors and Readers that what they have been trading
for the last five centuries are not really books but what has
been recorded and transported inside books, then one is likely to
encounter–at least at first, at least among a significant part
of the populace–the sort of incredulity and stubbornness that
manufacturers of Horseless Carriages received when what had been
readily apparent to any moron for thousands of years was the
primary importance not of the carriage but of the horse.
Ultimately, people decided that carriages pulled by
horsepower rather than by horses worked better for getting
around, but that horses would still have an honored place on the
racetrack and at the riding academy.
So, I expect, it will be with “Paperless Books.”
Bound books will still have their place in the hearts–and
on the shelves–of those who appreciate their history, the beauty
of the crafts used in making them, the almost sensual smells of
paper and ink. For certain readers, books will remain delightful
to look at, wonderful to hold. For certain authors, there will
always be something approaching ecstasy in seeing their names on
the title page of a book, their words shining off the semi-
glossed sheets bound within.
But the Paperless Book will come as surely as did the
Horseless Carriage, and for the same reasons. Automobiles were
far better than horses at getting from one place to another.
Given the commonality, and approaching universality, of computers
and modems, software is simply far better than bound books at
getting Works from Author to Reader.
Let us say a profound thank you to Herr Gutenberg for giving
us economically practical books. Let us next give thanks to
Caxton, Cerf, and Ballantine for giving us quality books, for
their times, in the largest quantity and lowest price possible.
Then let us proceed to doing what Gutenberg, Caxton, Cerf,
and Ballantine were properly doing for their generations: making
the bridle path between Author and Reader as short, smooth, and
straightforward as possible.
Book Publishing Today
Who has not heard the phrase, “You can’t judge a book by its
cover”? Yet, the obvious truth to anyone who gives even a
cursory glance at the process by which books today are ordered,
distributed, and vended, is that often the only ways books are
judged is by their covers.
The process of publishing books today is not driven by what
readers wish to read or by what authors wish to write, or even by
what editors wish to buy for publication.
For trade hardcovers and trade paperbacks, the process is
driven, chiefly, by what the large retail bookstore chains–
Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, Barnes & Noble–are willing to order and
display on their shelves. Secondarily, it’s driven by what chain
retailers such as K-Mart and Bradlees are willing to order and
display. Using the horse-racing analogy, the aggregate orders
from independent bookstores show, but rarely place or win, when
it comes to creating display space for a book.
For mass-market paperbacks–in addition to the
aforementioned outlets–the ordering process is driven by what
newspaper and magazine distributors are willing to order,
warehouse, and send out with their trucks for their drivers to
stack on wire racks in supermarkets, convenience stores, and
Both trade book and mass-market-paperback retailing are
driven by the same basic assumption that is used for selling soft
drinks, soap, and toilet paper: display space is valuable. Put a
product up: if it sells fast, reorder; if it doesn’t move, pull
it off and ship it back.
Retailers consider book-purchasing largely an impulse “buy”
based on generic use (the category: Romance, Biography, Science
Fiction, or Self-Help), brand familiarity (the author’s name),
packaging (the cover illustration, promo copy, and quotes), and
promotion (advertising and publicity).
Aside from price, the only difference between trade book and
mass-market paperback publishing is that unsold trade books are
shipped back to the publisher’s or distributor’s warehouse while
unsold mass-market paperbacks–like unsold magazines–have their
covers stripped off and sent back to the publisher for credit.
Minus their covers, unsold mass-market paperback books are
The necessity of product turnover is such a major element in
book retailing that the shelf-life of 95% of published books
should be measured in the halflives of highly radioactive
The shelf-life of a hardcover book averages six months
before unsold copies are removed from shelves and shipped back to
the warehouse, there to be marked down to or below unit cost and
sent back to bookstores as “remainders.” One year after
publication, all but bestselling hardcovers are virtually
impossible to find in the chain retail outlets other than as a
remainder unprofitable to either publisher or author.
The shelf-life of a paperback book averages six weeks before
unsold copies are removed from racks, have their covers stripped
for credit, and destroyed. Eight months after publication–for
all but bestsellers–a paperback won’t be found anywhere but
independent bookstores. Even a successful paperback isn’t immune
to a retail book outlet stripping covers for credit against new
orders even of the same book. Thus are still-salable books
regularly destroyed by retailers and distributors eager to
improve their cash flow a few percentage points by putting off
payment to publishers for another month.
The retailing requirements of books today dictate–up stream
from retail outlets to distributors and publishers, from there up
stream to the publishers’ sales and marketing staff, up stream
there to editorial staff, and up stream ultimately to authors
wishing to be published–what can and will be written and
And, overwhelmingly, what can and will be published is
severely limited by several basic rules of mass-marketing:
1) A product must be standardized at the lowest common
denominator to sell at mass-market quantities.
2) Mass-marketing is selling many units of a few products,
not few units of many products.
3) Start-up costs for a new product are high, so reduce
costs by limiting advertising and letting the product’s packaging
sell it on the shelf.
4) Introducing a new product is risky, so reduce risk by
making the new product as much as possible like the products
already available, and selling them as “just as good.”
5) Moving a brand-name product around the store too much
loses sales, so keep it on the same shelf so the customer will
know where to find it.
These basic rules of retailing are filters which determine
what books are publishable today.
By rule one, a book must fit into a standard category or
appeal to the lowest common denominator: thus the necessity that
a publishable book be either a generic–science fiction, mystery,
or romance–or a surefire runaway bestseller. Thus is an out-of-
category book, other than those capable of significant publicity
based on the author’s reputation or connections, rendered
By rule two, effort must be spent promoting, advertising,
and selling only the product leaders: the books which are planned
from the outset to be bestsellers. (Accidental bestsellers are
all but impossible.) Thus the publishing industry’s reliance on
celebrity books, movie and television tie-ins, “formula”
bestsellers, self-help books, cookbooks, cute calendars, and
By rule three, category books must sell themselves by
generic packaging and, in some cases–such as the general-fiction
category–author’s name, alone, minimizing the risk that
customers will perceive each new book as the unique product it
is. Corollary is that a different book package must be developed
and manufactured for each category into which one would wish to
shelve the same Work. This is rarely worth the effort and the
risk is almost never taken.
By rule four, literary invention is an undesirable risk.
This makes it necessary for the “uniqueness” of books to be
eliminated as much as possible, in order to make it possible to
sell them as “just as good” as the last one. (Book retailing
seems to have been unable to find a way to apply the marketing
technique of calling a book–vis a vis a previous book–”new and
And by rule five, an author with name-recognition value in a
particular category must be shelved in that one category whether
or not the new Work fits that category or not. Thus will one
find Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare shelved in the science-
fiction section of some bookstores where it might find a few
science fiction readers interested in Shakespeare … but far
fewer than shelving it in the theater section.
These are the market realities that a publisher must deal
with–by which an acquiring editor is placed in blinders and an
author is saddled–before that publisher decides whether a
particular Work has even the slightest chance of overcoming the
considerable costs of acquiring rights, editing, typesetting,
packaging, manufacturing, selling, advertising, publicizing,
shipping, warehousing, and (for paperbacks) destruction.
All these are endemic limitations on book publication, even
before one gets to the epidemic book-industry difficulties such
as coordinating availability of books with their advertising and
publicity, the mis-forecasting of trends, or the collapse of
marketing commitment for books already acquired–or even in
production–because the acquiring editor has left the company.
How Electronic Availability
Changes Publishing Assumptions
Even before we get to the Author’s and Reader’s perspective
on publishing, we can demonstrate how electronic availability can
solve publishers’ problems with respect to distribution.
Much of this can also be applied as “retailer” benefits,
inasmuch as a percentage of consumers will prefer to do business
through already established retail channels.
1) The retail assumption of “scarce shelf space” is
eliminated at the outset: both storage space and display space in
electronic media are, for all practical purposes, unlimited.
“Shelf-life” no longer being scarce, there is no necessity of
“moving” a product or taking it off sale, or requiring that sales
be impulse “buys.”
2) Start-up costs and therefore start-up risks that are
caused by the book-manufacturing process are brought down to a
level that can only be thought of as “spectacularly low.”
The lengthy years between delivery of a completed Work to
the publisher and earnings of revenue which can be paid to the
Author can be reduced to several months, obviating the necessity
of large up-front “advances.”
Storage costs approach zero: about $1.00 per Work, period.
Manufacturing cost before placing a title on sale: $0.35.
(Preparation of the Work up to current publishing standards is
now the author’s financial responsibility.)
A grand total of One Copy needs to be published on disk
before the first sale is made: all further copies of most Works
can be placed onto disk in minutes; a copy can be downloaded via
modem in somewhat more minutes–but minutes nonetheless.
Availability to the consumer can better mass-market distribution,
while every order can be filled as if it were a special order.
3) There need be no out-of-print titles, no remaindered or
destroyed copies. Inventory is reducible to one copy per title.
Shipping cost per unit on disk approaches that of first-class
letters or–for download via modem–is costed directly to the
4) There is no necessity of a time-limit on availability of
a title: costs can be amortized over a much longer time than for
5) There is no necessity of choosing one particular category
in which to publish a Work: it can be simultaneously published in
all marketable categories: categorization can now be inclusive
rather than exclusive, encouraging–rather than discouraging–
diversity in the marketplace.
6) Works no longer need to be placed onto inappropriate
“shelves” because of the author’s name value: cross-referencing
can make it available in all marketable categories.
7) There is no necessity of relying on surefire bestsellers:
twenty titles selling moderately well can produce the same
profitability as one title selling extremely well.
8 ) Finally, there is no longer any reason to reject any
worthwhile or interesting Work because of the risk: the risk of
publication approaches its being a non-existent market factor.
Virtually in one-fell-swoop, electronic availability manages
to eliminate almost the entire downside risk of publishing and
distributing Authors’ Works. As a consequence, the cost-per unit
to the consumer can equal and ultimately drop far below mass-
market paperbacks, while the unit profitability to publisher (and
retailer) can approach that of hardcovers.
The Author’s Viewpoint
From the Author’s standpoint, the marketing of books is
almost always a nightmare rather than a dream. An Author’s most
brilliant Works are often unpublishable because they are unique,
or new, or cross categories lines, or because they are difficult
to describe in twenty words or less.
First Works, particularly first novels, are often
unpublishable merely because readers won’t know the Author’s
name, and therefore the book is unlikely to overcome economy-of-
scale minimum print-runs and produce a profit. This is
compounded if the first Work is also particularly unusual or
brilliant–which is often the case.
Certain categories of books–such as fiction anthologies or
short story collections–go in and out of fashion–if one tries
to sell one the wrong year, tough luck.
The author’s share of the proceeds from sales–called
“royalties,” under a contract in which editorial responsibility
is reserved to the publisher–is small: usually 10% for hardcover
(up to 15% royalty after sales numbers achieved only by a small
percentage of books); between 4% and 10% for paperbacks, with 8%
being the commonly achieved rate given the sales figures of most
paperback books. For books first published in hardcover, these
paperback royalties must be shared between author and hardcover
publisher, usually fifty-fifty. Usually only successful authors
are able to negotiate better splits. This often leaves the share
of paperback proceeds paid to author at 3% to 4%. Most states
collect more in sales tax on a paperback book than the percentage
received by the author who created it.
The publishing process itself is costly and time-consuming,
which, again, is why book publishers have the additional start-up
cost of paying an author advances against royalties in order to
acquire the right to publish their books.
A year is the average minimum from delivery of a completed
manuscript to first publication. A year after that is the
minimum for an author to see any royalties from the first three
months of sale, and if earned royalties have somehow managed to
exceed the advance against royalties given the author by the
publisher, a certain percentage will be held back by the
publisher against the possibility of bookstores returning copies
to the publisher’s warehouse.
Often these “reserves against returns” prevent authors from
seeing significant royalties for three or more years. Given such
delays, and the short shelf life of a book, authors regularly
figure that their advance is the only money they’ll ever see from
a book sale.
Except for bestsellers, advertising ranges from minimal to
zip. Publicity tours are likewise fantasy for anyone but the big
names. The average author is lucky to get a two-in-the-morning
radio call-in show. For that all-important day of glory–the
bookstore autograph signing–the author had better phone friends:
they are likely the only ones who’ll show up.
As for reviews, they are usually sporadic, and sometimes
nonexistent. A paperback original stands as much chance of a
front-page review in the New York Times Book Review as Jesse
Jackson has being elected … Pope. Even a respectable novel
published hardcover by a major publisher may find itself ignored
by every major newspaper, magazine, and book review in the
But even success has its downside. An author who has had
any success at all in one category may find it impossible to sell
a book in another category. The author can, of course, use a pen
name … but then all the painstakingly acquired name value is
lost and it’s as if the author is publishing a first book.
This is a serious drawback to such a move. A beginning
author must often sign a publishing contract on a take-it-or-
leave-it basis, with publishers offering little advance money,
giving no guarantees, assuming the right to edit the author’s
Work any way they see fit, and taking high percentages of
subsidiary rights. It seems to an author like outright thievery
until one realizes that even stacking the cards this way, the
publisher is still more likely than not to lose money on the
A few authors do manage to run this gauntlet all the way to
the bestseller’s list. Here is comparative paradise: high
advances, good distribution, prime reviews, real advertising,
publicity tours, movie sales. But for the vast majority of
authors, the bestseller list is a Shangri-La, never to be found.
No wonder it’s been observed that there are only four
hundred or so authors in this country of a quarter billion who
are able to make a full-time living out of writing.
Here Comes The Commercial
Here are just a few of the ways electronic availability will
be better able to serve Authors than the current book publishing
Author’s Problem 1: The Work is unpublishable because it is
too inventive, or doesn’t fit a publishing category, or the
author is unknown, or the book can’t easily be described, or that
sort of book is out of fashion.
SoftServ Solution: Send us your poor, your tired, your
huddled Authors yearning to breathe free! The cost of storage
and distribution of a Work on SoftServ is so low that there is
virtually no quality Work on which SoftServ can’t take a chance.
Additionally, SoftServ may sell an impressive enough number of
copies that traditional publishing may take notice and publish
the Work in book form.
Author’s Problem 2: The lion’s share of revenue produced
from sale of a Work is eaten up by retailers, distributors, and
publisher, leaving only crumbs for the Author.
SoftServ Solution: The SoftServ contract assumes–for Works
not yet published–that when the Author places the Work onto
disk, this is First Publication, making the Author the Work’s
Publisher. The Author/Publisher then places the Work on
consignment with SoftServ and contracts with SoftServ to provide
marketing and electronic dissemination services.
Pre-publication functions usually assumed in the publishing
contract to be the province of the Publisher will therefore
remain with the Author: editing, proofing, copyright, placing the
Work in a format suitable for publication–in this case putting
it onto a machine-readable form. The Author/Publisher may choose
to contract with SoftServ to provide these pre-publication
services, but SoftServ will charge for these services and apply
these charges against the Author/Publisher’s share of sale
proceeds. The Author/Publisher will be free to contract
elsewhere for these services, but they will have to negotiate
Literary Agents may well decide to become “Packagers,”
preparing their client’s Works for publication through SoftServ
in exchange for a larger percentage than the usual agent’s
Book publishers contracting with SoftServ for Works they
control will find the process identical to a standard subsidiary
Because of the relatively low cost of electronic storage and
dissemination, a much-higher percentage of sale proceeds will be
paid to Proprietors than offered by standard book-publishing
contracts. The standard SoftServ contract will pay between one-
third to one-half of the proceeds to the Proprietor
(Author/Publisher), depending on how the Work is sold.
Author’s Problem 3: It takes a year or more before a
completed Work is published, and a year or more before royalties
are finally, received. Significant portions of revenue due
authors are held back as “reserve against returns.”
SoftServ Solution: SoftServ should usually be able to take a
completed Work in machine-readable form and have it on sale
within thirty days. Statements of account and payments of share-
of-proceeds for copies sold the previous month should follow
every thirty days thereafter. There will be no “reserve against
returns” because there will be no returns.
Author’s Problem 4: Loss of control over the editing,
packaging, and promotion of the Work.
SoftServ Solution: All these are the domain of the
Publisher, and for Works first made available on SoftServ, the
Author will also be the Publisher. However, at
Author/Publisher’s discretion, all these can be contracted to be
handled by SoftServ, either at cash cost charged against the
Author/Publisher’s share of the proceeds, or with percentages of
proceeds against sales dedicated to these purposes open to
Author’s Problem 5: Little or no advertising for the Work.
SoftServ Solution: Advertising can be handled either by the
Author/Publisher, or by SoftServ, and five percent of sale
proceeds will be set aside for that purpose.
Author’s Problem 6: Few reviews of a Work.
SoftServ Solution: While how long it will take for
newspapers and magazines to begin reviewing Works available only
electronically is a matter of speculation, it can be assumed that
the stodgy book-review media will take as long to review Works
available on SoftServ as they have to review mass-market
paperbacks: no time soon.
But additional review media already exist and can be created
for electronic Works. Reviews can be garnered from computer
bulletin boards, from fanzines, from computer users groups, and
those reviews placed on computer consumer networks such as
CompuServe, The Source, and Genie. SoftServ can find these
reviews and index them to the title of the Work, making a variety
of reviews available to potential consumers before they buy a
SoftServ will maintain both a reader’s review bulletin-board
electronic magazine called DisContents, wherein SoftServ readers
can list their opinions, and will start a professional electronic
critical review magazine, Pistols at Dawn!, wherein Authors and
Professional Critics can have at each other to their hearts’
content. It should be fun to watch.
Moreover, SoftServ will make available the first 7,500 to
10,000 words–approximately the first three chapters–of every
Work available free, and in addition will distribute SoftServ
Samplers to promote Works available on SoftServ.
The Reader’s Viewpoint
From the Reader’s end, book-problems are more likely to be
annoyances rather than life catastrophes. Many of these itches
are so taken for granted that their elimination will be closely
akin to providing word processors to people who’ve used nothing
but typewriters: apprehension at first, soon followed by the
question, “How did I ever put up with it?”
Here are an even dozen common problems that the SoftServ
concept will eliminate for readers:
Reader’s Problem 1: Unavailability. Variations of: “Yeah, I
know you just saw the author on TV, but–”
“We don’t have it in yet.”
“We sold out.”
“The library only has one copy, and it’s out.”
“We just sent all our copies back to the warehouse.”
“It’s out of stock at the distributor.”
“We only have volumes two and three of the trilogy.”
More serious unavailabilities:
“Never heard of it.”
(Or the reader’s never heard of it!)
“It’s out of print from the publisher.”
“I haven’t seen a copy of that for years.”
“This library doesn’t have the budget to order
that many titles since Proposition 13.”
Most serious unavailabilities:
“The town council has passed a resolution forbidding
this library to carry that book.”
“The Campus Bookstore may not carry any book deemed by
the Student Council to be racist or sexist.”
“We burn books like that!”
SoftServ Solution: Works distributed by SoftServ can remain
in on-line storage permanently, available on a moment’s notice by
modem, twenty-four hours a day. They can be delivered directly
into the home, out of reach of all censorship short of cutting
off all telephone service or banning computers and modems.
Indexing of titles and cross-referencing with reviews stored on
SoftServ can make information about the Works also instantly
Reader’s Problem 2: High price: “I’ll have to wait until it
comes out in paperback.” This leads to an additional
unavailability: many hardcover books never sell to paperback.
SoftServ Solution: SoftServ should be able to sell all but
the lengthiest Works at paperback prices, but offer revenues to
Authors equivalent to hardcover sales. Moreover, even when
scheduled for book publication, Authors could make their Works
available on SoftServ a year before the first printing.
Reader’s Problem 3: Misleading packaging due to category
requirements: “This novel is titled The Tomb but there’s no tomb
in it anywhere!” Or, “There’s a spaceship, a Bug-Eyed Monster,
and a Beautiful Babe on the cover–how come they’re not in the
SoftServ Solution: Works sold by SoftServ have no necessity
of being limited to one particular category. As a matter of
fact, the more categories a book can be indexed to, the better.
Current book publishing is category-exclusive. SoftServ
Publishing will be category-inclusive.
Reader’s Problem 4: Lack of variety: “After a while, these
sorts of books all run together. Doesn’t anybody write anything
SoftServ Solution: Works sold through SoftServ need have
none of the retail market limitations on content, originality,
inventiveness, breaking category, or necessity of mass sales to
the “lowest common denominator.” The elimination of most start-
up costs and market risks makes even a first novel by a complete
unknown a potential money-maker. Because of this, electronic
publishing should produce a veritable renaissance in literature
by eliminating all retail-created limitations on publication.
Reader’s Problem 5: Storage space. Schulman’s First Law:
Books will exceed bookshelves.
SoftServ Solution: Given the storage capacities of current
diskettes, most people could keep their entire library in a
shoebox. When CD-Rom becomes industry standard, entire libraries
will be storable on one compact disk.
Reader’s Problem 6: Shipping weight of books when moving.
“Leave them behind? It took me ten years to build this
SoftServ Solution: Take the shoebox (or CD) with you when
Reader’s Problem 7: Small type.
SoftServ Solution: Set your computer printer to print large
Reader’s Problem 8: Difficulty of replacing worn-out copies.
SoftServ Solution: Print another copy. If you’re worried
that your diskette is getting old, make a new copy of it, too.
Reader’s Problem 9: Two people in the same household want to
read the same book at the same time, but don’t want to buy two
SoftServ Solution: Print out two copies. Or get a computer
with multi-user capability. Or even two computers, cheapskate.
Reader’s Problem 10: Difficulty locating a particular quote
in a book, or a particular scene, or a character.
SoftServ Solution: Global “string” searches could locate all
instances of a name or key word–a useful capability for both the
student and the professional.
Reader’s Problem 11: Illiteracy, Blindness, Poor Eyesight,
Reading Disfunctions, or English-language difficulties.
SoftServ Solution: For the illiterate or those with other
reading problems, works available on SoftServ could
simultaneously be displayed on screen as text and read aloud by a
voice synthesizer. Or just the latter. For the blind reader,
Works available on SoftServ could be immediately available to
Braille printers, dot-matrix printers using software designed to
print Braille, or any other equipment capable of accepting ASCII.
Reader’s Problem 12: Difficulties in judging a book by its
content, rather than by its cover, particularly: a) Obtaining a
wide variety of reviews of a Work–a comparison of opinions–
before purchase; and b) Difficulty of reading a significant
portion of a book–enough to decide on purchase–while standing
in a bookstore.
SoftServ Solution: Through on-line reviews available in
DisContents and the critic/author debates in Pistols at Dawn!–
all indexed both to Title and Author–the Reader will have access
to a powerful tool in determining which Works are worth purchase.
The SoftServ Sampler concept, mentioned under heading IV,
will also provide readers with free copies of the first 7,500 to
10,000 words–approximately the first three chapters–of every
Work available–another powerful tool in judging Works by their
content, not by their cover.
In addition to all these solutions to already-existing
problems, there will be one primary reason why Readers will come
to SoftServ to find the Authors they wish to read: That’s where
the Authors will be.
Given the overwhelming problems that SoftServ is able to
solve for the vast majority of Authors, and the much-higher-share
of proceeds-per-sale that will be available to Authors as
compared to traditional book publishing, the market will surely
gravitate toward even bestselling Authors placing their Works on
SoftServ then selling them to book publishers.
And given that many Works–even by name Authors–will remain
unpublishable as books given the high costs, high risks, and
limitations of book publishing, SoftServ will often remain the
one place where Readers will always be able to find a book.
Publishing a Work Through SoftServ
The process of publishing a work through SoftServ will
parallel that of publishing through print media.
An Author will write the work, and is free to engage
whatever editorial help is necessary. SoftServ will be
interested in seeing the Work only when it is finished and ready
for publication, and will rely on established authors, literary
agents, and publishers to prepare the Work up to publishable
standards, copyright it, place it into machine-readable form, and
format it to SoftServ’s electronic requirements.
At the point where the Work is ready to go, a Marketing
Agreement will be signed between the Proprietor of the Work and
SoftServ. SoftServ will place the Work on its host computers,
list it in its electronic catalog of available Works, and
publicize it to the electronic marketplace.
Works will be available through SoftServ both in electronic
“soft” versions in magnetic or optical media, and, if the Work is
not in print as a bound book, the Work will also be available as
an unbound “hard” copy.
For each copy of the Work sold through SoftServ, SoftServ
will collect from the purchaser, deduct its sales commission, and
forward the proceeds to the Proprietor. Statements and proceeds
will be sent once each month.
SoftServ will also sometimes handle subsidiary rights to
license the Work for traditional print publication such as in
book or magazine form, through a book club, or on tape.
For Works available on SoftServ that are also available, or
soon to be available, in published book form, SoftServ will make
the book version available direct-mail to its customers through
electronic orders from the SoftServ Electronic Bookshop.
Buying From SoftServ
Buying Works from SoftServ will begin with a sign-up
procedure to establish an account and a Personal Identification
Number (PIN) on the system. A start-up kit will then be sent
which includes a properly configured SoftServ Reader Program with
the PIN embedded in it, as well as XModem software to be used for
electronic modem communications with SoftServ, documentation, and
credit toward the purchase of two Works. Modem communications
with SoftServ, including access to the electronic catalog and to
place orders, will be available at 300 bps, 1200 bps, or 2400
bps. The customer will be responsible for all communications
charges, whether by telephone or through a computer network such
as the Source, CompuServe, or GEnie.
If the customer does not have a modem, a hard copy of the
catalog may be ordered and orders for Works will be able to be
placed either by mail or by ordinary voice telephone.
Once the SoftServ customer has a Reader Program for her or
his computer, the customer will be able to place orders with
SoftServ, either for the Work, or a SoftServ Sampler, to be
downloaded immediately via modem–at either 1200 bps or 2400 bps,
24 hours a day, 365 days a year–or mailed on disk. All Works
purchased will be in crunched, encrypted form and keyed to the
PIN number in that particular customer’s Reader Program: these
Works will not be accessible without the Reader Program or by any
other Reader Program. This is both to protect against pirating
of Works, and to be able to assure both Author and Reader that
the Work is authentic, and hasn’t been cut, edited, re-written,
censored, bowdlerized, or otherwise screwed up.
The customer will be billed for all copies ordered, and will
be allowed to make up to several hard or soft copies for personal
SoftServ will also be experimenting with selling diskettes
and hard copies through retail outlets such as bookstores,
computer & electronics stores, copy shops, and department stores.
The Bottom Line
Judging by how well it can serve the needs of Authors and Readers
as compared to the problems of book publishing today, there seems
little doubt that Electronic Mass-Market Trade Publishing is an idea
whose time has come.
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