Electronic Books: Hypertext and Hyperfiction

Start Free Trial

Implications For Publishing, Libraries, And The Public

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6966

Eldred Smith (essay date 1 February 1992)

SOURCE: "The Print Prison," in Library Journal, Vol. 117, No. 2, February 1, 1992, pp. 48-51.

[In the following essay, Smith remarks on the weaknesses of the print medium, particularly as it relates to scholarly publishing, and suggests ways in which the academic community could benefit from electronic information technology.]

It is no exaggeration that the invention of printing liberated the spread and advancement of knowledge. No field or discipline remained untouched, and most were transformed by printing's ability to disseminate and preserve information inexpensively and with an ease and reliability never previously imagined. The ensuing rapid rise of print publication also exerted a liberating influence on the growth and development of libraries.

It is, however, becoming increasingly clear that the book and other print products have also had a limiting effect on knowledge's spread and advancement. Print imprisons knowledge by the very means through which it promotes its availability: access to the contents of a book can only be achieved if one physically possesses a copy of that book.

The need to invest their efforts and resources in managing book collections has effectively imprisoned librarians and libraries as well. Research librarians, in particular, have little capacity left over to assist their clientele with quick and effective access to the information that they seek, a substantial and increasingly important need as scholarship and its written record continue to expand and proliferate. Rather, research librarians have generally had to leave scholars and students to their own devices in coping with enormous collections and a very complex bibliographic apparatus.

The new electronic information technology has begun to demonstrate print's limitations more clearly than any other development over the past 500 years, precisely because it provides the means to overcome these limitations. Indeed, as the electronic age progresses, it is gradually freeing recorded knowledge from its print confinement. This development, in turn, has the capacity to free librarians and libraries from their imprisonment by the book, providing that librarians seize the opportunity to transform their libraries from print repositories to electronic information centers.

As Elizabeth A. Eisenstein has demonstrated at length in her indispensable study The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1980), printing literally transformed every significant field of human activity. Science, art, law, exploration and discovery, politics, education—none was the same after the printed book replaced the manuscript as the primary means of recording and preserving information. Although a number of printing's characteristics were important in exerting this influence, its ability to produce a large number of identical copies of a work, quickly and cheaply, was particularly significant.

Not only did this allow for an ease and breadth of information distribution that was unheard of previously, it also guaranteed that the text in each individual copy of a work was precisely the same as that in every other copy. During the manuscript era, no such guarantee could be made or accepted. Indeed, no matter the care with which scribes pursued their task, mistakes were inevitable and, in many cases, substantial. As a consequence, it was impossible to establish a body of generally accepted detailed knowledge in any field. It is certainly no accident that encyclopedias and other codifications knowledge began to appear only after printing became well established and widely used. Scholarship as we know it today, which builds incrementally on the documented and accepted work of others, was literally made possible by the creation and distribution of printed records.

Libraries existed for centuries, even millennia, before the introduction of print; however, the modern library, as it has evolved since...

(This entire section contains 6966 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

the 15th century, is a creature of the printed book. The standardized features of the book, which every reader takes for granted, are also a product of print culture. Cataloging and classification, which organize and control multimillion-volume collections, derive directly from information provided by standardized title pages, tables of contents, and indexes, through the use of systems that have all been developed and established during the print era.

Although printing liberated the growth and spread of information, this liberation was far from complete. In order to disseminate information through print, it is necessary to package this information in the form of a book, newspaper, journal, or other product, which must then be dispersed in multiple copies. Because printed information is spread through the distribution of books and other print products, anyone seeking information must acquire copies of these products in order to have access to the information that they contain.

Organization and preservation of printed information requires the organization and preservation of the books, journals, and other carriers of such information. The basic paradox of print publication, therefore, is that information is restricted by the very vehicle that was designed to promote its availability—the book or other print product.

This paradox has affected the progress and spread of scholarship. Despite its enormously liberating impact on the growth of knowledge, print publication has also limited and constrained that growth. These limitations have been of two kinds: first, limits on quick and effective dissemination; second, limits on convenient and efficient access.

Limits on dissemination have been most evident in the difficulties that scholars encounter in having their works published expeditiously. Delays of months are expected, and delays of years are not uncommon. Librarians, struggling to keep pace with a constantly increasing number of monographs and journals, may perceive that too much is being published. In truth, as scholarship continues to expand, a growing amount of material deemed worthy of distribution remains unpublished because the resources do not exist to print and distribute everything of value.

Furthermore, even published works receive only limited circulation. Dependent upon sales to cover ever-expanding printing and distribution costs, scholarly book publishing has witnessed a long and gradual decline in purchase by both individuals and libraries. As a consequence, these publications are reaching a diminishing portion of their constituency, and they are reaching that constituency much more slowly because both individuals and libraries are increasingly dependent upon sharing copies.

Limits on access are, in many respects, even more severe. It has been impossible, throughout the print era, to gather a complete collection of the world's scholarly publications or to create a comprehensive and convenient bibliographic apparatus to control this publication. In fact, collections are becoming less complete and more scattered, and the bibliographic apparatus is growing increasingly complex and difficult to use effectively. Scholars must either invest larger and larger amounts of their time and energy in gathering the information that they need, or they must rely more heavily upon informal and selective information-seeking practices, such as consultation with colleagues and citation searching.

The paradox of information's entrapment in the very mechanism that distributes it has resulted in librarians and libraries being bound by this same mechanism. Librarians invest most of their energies in acquiring, cataloging, and managing collections of books and other print products. Far too little of their time is left over for the substantive assistance with the use of these collections that their clientele require.

This is particularly true for research librarians, who have the special responsibility of preserving and maintaining the record of world scholarship. In their constant struggle to accomplish this with limited resources, research librarians find themselves hard pressed to provide effective information service.

The limitations of print have gone generally unrecognized until recently. The book has long been celebrated as a remarkably cheap, convenient, and effective means of information transfer, and this is still generally the case. With the rise of the new electronic information technology, however, print's shortcomings are becoming more evident and more bothersome. This is occurring in many areas of human activity, including the informal, prepublication stages of scholarship. Not only are scholars in a growing number of disciplines making greater and greater use of computers to store and manipulate data, they are using electronic mail to communicate worldwide with colleagues in the pursuit of common or collaborative research objectives.

The attraction of E-mail is that it offers the advantages of print with few of print's shortcomings. Like print, E-mail can communicate identical text to a number of different parties across considerable distances. Unlike print, E-mail can communicate almost instantly. It also allow the receiving parties to preserve the information they receive either in print or in electronic form, and it also enables them to manipulate the text they receive in a variety of ways. This capability adds appreciably to scholars' convenience in sharing information and ideas through the research process.

Similarly, electronic technology can also free scholarly publication, the more formal process of scholarly communication, from the limitations imposed by print. Delays resulting from queueing for an opening in a journal issue or scheduling a print run for a monograph, coupled with the time required to produce and distribute print products, are unnecessary in an electronic communication system that does not require print packaging. Once a work has been reviewed, accepted, and edited, it can be made available electronically. Similarly, electronic publication need impose no limit on volume of publication. Everything that has passed muster with reviewers and editors can be distributed in potentially unlimited number.

Such distribution cannot, however, be accomplished through the well-established print channels that have developed over the past 500 years. It is increasingly evident that this elaborate system of journals and monographs will be neither effective nor necessary for electronic dissemination. What will replace it? This is the problem that now perplexes scholars, publishers, and librarians as they look ahead toward passage from the print to the electronic information environment.

The answer to this question is inextricably tied to solution of the print era's information access problems: the scattered, incomplete, highly redundant collections and complex, incomplete bibliographic apparatus that have been characteristic of this period. Research libraries, which properly aspire to be comprehensive in their collections, inevitably fail due to the enormous difficulty and expense of acquiring and maintaining such a large number of print products. Because of the incompleteness and dispersal of print collections, the bibliographic apparatus that has been developed to control them has been largely uncoordinated, and it is rife with both duplication and omission.

Correction of these problems requires the gathering of a single comprehensive collection, including all extant current, past, and future scholarly publication. Such a collection is possible in the electronic era. Furthermore, just as scattered and incomplete collections have frustrated the creation of a single complete, consistent, and comprehensive bibliographic apparatus, it is precisely such an apparatus that can and must be established to maintain and control a single unified collection.

Of course, both the collection and the apparatus would be electronic. They would be accessible anywhere, using the worldwide communications structure that presently exists. Desired portions could be retrieved on computer screens, transferred to local data stores, and even printed out on printers. Although much work would certainly be required to plan and implement such a collection and apparatus, no substantial technical problem lies in the way of its accomplishment.

What is necessary is a new electronic mode of distributing scholarly publication that is both coordinated and consistent. This can be achieved by establishing a database of scholarship to which electronic copies are contributed. Electronic copy is now produced for the vast majority of publications, as a prelude to print. Rather than relying on the limitations, costs, and imperfections of the print distribution system, as in the past, publication of a work of scholarship would be accomplished by its deposit in a generally accessible electronic database, where its index would be integrated with the indexes of all other publications, and it would be properly cataloged.

This mode of publication would be advantageous to the nonprofit societies and universities that comprise the vast majority of scholarly publishers, particularly in North America. It would relieve them of the enormous financial and other burdens of printing and marketing. Without damaging their editorial role in any way, it would allow them to publish each work as soon as it had passed review and been edited. All limitations on volume of publication would be removed.

Scholars would benefit through prompt publication, the removal of external limitations on publishability, and improved access. The single, complete archive of scholarship, controlled by a comprehensive, consistent index, and available on their office, laboratory, or home personal computers, would provide scholars with a convenience and reliability heretofore unknown. If this were coupled with genuine information service provided by local campus libraries, scholars' information access would improve manyfold.

The librarian would benefit as well. Relieved of the increasingly frustrating burden of managing larger and larger collections that contain a steadily dwindling portion of world scholarly publication, research librarians could concentrate on providing substantive information service, drawing upon the electronic database of scholarship as well as the other electronic databases that are being and will continue to be established. Campus libraries would be transformed into information centers by providing a range of programs from current awareness services, to alert scholars to new publications of interest as soon as they were deposited in the scholarly database, to searches of that database and of other information stores.

Presumed barriers, such as copyright and technological compatibility, would effectively be removed by the shift in publication mode on the part of nonprofit publishers (for which copyright is more of an authentication protection than an economic benefit) and the establishment of a single database of scholarship. Commercial publishers that are presently distributing works of scholarship—a far more extensive practice in Western Europe than in the United States, but certainly a problem for all research libraries—would probably resist the establishment of an electronic scholarly database, particularly if no user fees were levied, as they would not have to be for nonprofit publications. Such resistance could, however, be addressed in a number of ways. Fees could be implemented for access to commercial publications only. Conversely, copyrighted publications could be barred from the database until their copyrights expired.

In practice, it is doubtful that such measures would have to be applied for very long. If electronic publication through a scholarly database could assure scholars of prompt availability and widespread distribution of their works, it is highly unlikely that they would continue to use the slower and less accessible print vehicle. Quickly, electronic publication by means of the scholarly database would become the standard.

Today's publishers offer electronic journals, modeled on the print journal. CD-ROMs distribute electronic information in multiple copies, depriving it of the convenience and flexibility that are the new technology's most outstanding features. Librarians find themselves struggling through a transition period, still caught up in practices of the past as they attempt to redefine these practices in line with the capabilities of the future.

Nevertheless, the genie is emerging from the bottle. The most constraining features of the print era are gradually yielding to the greater capabilities of the new technology. Scholars, scholarly publishers, research librarians—all are being liberated from the book's limitations.

This does not mean that the book will not be with us, at least through the foreseeable future. What it does mean is that the new technology will replace print in performing an increasing number of functions, wherever its performance proves superior. One of those functions, clearly, is distribution and use of scholarly information.

This argument suggests a certain inevitability, as though all one had to do was sit back and await the transformation. Perhaps it may happen that way, in the long run. If, however, one seeks the best result in a reasonable period of time, it is well not to rely on destiny.

Librarians are in a critical position to direct this transition. Indeed, no one but research librarians, working with scholars, scholarly publishers, and academic leaders, can design and implement such a change. In the final analysis, then, research librarians must assume responsibility to free themselves from the boundaries of the book, as they move forward into the next millennium.

Carol Robinson (essay date 6 September 1993)

SOURCE: "Publishing's Electronic Future," in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 240, No. 36, September 6, 1993, pp. 46-8, 50, 52.

[In the essay below, which is based on interviews with numerous people in the publishing industry, Robinson addresses questions regarding the future of publishing, including distribution, genres, media, copyright law, and marketing.]

The industrial world is in the throes of a technological revolution in which the rate of change has never been as fast or the boundaries that normally separate one industry from another as blurred. Communications, computing, entertainment and publishing industries are beginning to converge, creating new kinds of alliances. What does it all mean for publishing? Who are the visionaries in publishing today, and how will they take advantage of the opportunities that come with technological change?

To answer some of these questions, and to try to find out what the tradebook publishing industry thinks about the prospects for the millennium 2000, a diverse but representative group of 32 people, including publishers, directors of new media, literary agents, new media packagers, marketing consultants and copyright experts were interviewed.


Everyone agrees that, in a scant seven years, publishing as we know it will be different, but there is little shared vision of the future. In fact, there was some general discomfort about how things might look by the year 2000. Some smaller publishers even said they were "out in left field" or simply "not prepared to answer." One straightforward publisher of a large company admitted that the changes in technology make him nervous. Perhaps the discomfort is due to previous experiences some of the larger publishers have had in trying to pioneer when neither the technology nor the market were ready.

Four major issues emerged in response to this question. The first involved the fate of the book itself.

Rather expectedly, most people interviewed do not believe the book will ever disappear, although they can imagine some fairly dramatic changes by the year 2000. What they call the "revolution" will happen first in the reference world. "I think that business and reference publishers will lead the way for the new technology—providing all of us with raw data of what works and doesn't," says Larry Kirshbaum, CEO of Warner Books. The talk right now is that encyclopedias will continue to sell as hardcover books even though consumers can now buy the same information for less money with the added benefit of the search capacity of an interactive CD-ROM. Kenzi Sugihara, v-p and publisher of Random House Reference and Electronic Publishing, points out, however, that "electronic publishing is expanding faster than many of us expected. The installed base of CD-ROM drives is now expected to double every year." He predicts that by the year 2000, "telecommunications will take off as the next major distribution medium for publishers." Jack Romanos, president of the Consumer Group of Paramount Publishing, agrees that the industry will be revolutionized for nonfiction books. "We will slowly convert popular reference titles as the electronic installed base starts to grow. It is not essential to be the first to develop electronic books; many courageous people will get hammered in the beginning," he cautions.

If publishers are unwilling to admit that certain books may not make good business sense to continue to publish in hardcover, they are adamant about the staying power of the book format. Kirshbaum cautions anyone who has "the idea of a book, especially in fiction, going away. Let's not bury Mr. Gutenberg yet."

Peter Kindersley, president of Dorling Kindersley, does not agree. "We've almost exhausted the linear textbook as a way of getting information," he says. "An innovative blend of pictures and words creates more of a wraparound experience." He thinks that "interactive media meets the human need for freedom of exploration, where we can search for patterns out of our existing world."

Literary agent Richard Curtis, whose science fiction authors have already catapulted him into the 21st century, predicts that changes in publishing will be technology-driven rather than market-driven. "We are now in the twilight of the printed word," he declares, though careful to add that "twilights can take a long time."

Janet Wikler, group v-p and director of advanced media of HarperCollins, takes Curtis's warning about the future of books in an interesting direction. She believes that "interactive media form the basis of entirely new businesses that are not simply byproducts of our traditional businesses." She adds that "my generation may be the last to be predominantly verbal, to have a strong visceral affection for books—the smell of paper, the look of type. The book publishing industry depends on verbal literacy, while new media depend on comfort with technology. Most of the children in school right now have that kind of comfort, while their parents often don't."

Currently, publishers still expect to offer consumers options for nonfiction titles. And indeed some of the early offerings have been produced simultaneously in hardcover and CD-ROM formats. Clinton, Portrait of Victory, produced by Epicenter Communications and published by Warner Books, is an example of such a dual production. Matthew Naythans, its producer, thinks "most buyers for the CD-ROM option bought it in addition to the book."

One major stumbling block for book publishers who may wish to develop electronic properties is the lack of a standard platform, and this turned out to be the second major topic of discussion.

Charles Hayward, Little, Brown CEO, articulated a concern about making the right platform decision when a lot of money is at stake. He predicts that "there will be either a hard disk for television or an interactive service—the platform isn't clear yet. People do tend to get worried as a result."

Most publishers are taking a wait-and-see attitude. Both inside and outside the industry, there are examples of companies that chose the wrong technology or who enthusiastically produced something using a new technology before a sufficient base was there. (Betamax, anyone?) Peter Mayer, CEO of the Penguin Group, is concerned that "neither the hardware nor the software that could drive the publishing industry is agreed upon. Besides, we have not yet heard the consumer speak." Della Van Heyst, director of the Stanford Publishing Course, predicts that "online publishing will have a greater impact on traditional publishing than CD-ROM."

Michael Mellin, consulting editor at large for Random House, says he is not nervous about the platform issue. "What is needed is editorial judgment," Mellin says. "We have made some strategic partnerships with technology companies that also have a lot to gain from digitizing information and entertainment, and we will continue to do this."

Wikler agrees that the platform issue should not be the central concern. "We need to work with some platforms now that have a large enough installed base. But later we can adapt to other platforms as well. The important thing is to establish the vision of a company. There will never again be an era of certainty. We need to learn to live with change and variety."

There may not be agreement about the platform issue, but there does seem to be consensus on the third major issue—consumer acceptance. Quality content at good value, all agreed, will be crucial to building markets for the new media. Wikler thinks "with interactive media there needs to be a new way of thinking about content, and it will have to be more revolutionary than the process of adapting books for movies. With interactive media, the user decides where to start and what to do. The product needs to be created in such a way that it can enhance the power of the user."

As to coexistence with existing books, John Papanek, editor-in-chief of Time Life Inc., is one of several publishing executives who see "new media as incremental revenue, which will broaden audiences for books in general." Jack Romanos is in the same camp. opting for acquiring a property once and producing it in several formats. However, he is quick to point out that "electronic books need to have multimedia value-added."

Publishing contracts that existed before electronic rights were ever discussed often do not protect the current publishers of an author's work, leaving conversion to an electronic format entirely in the hands of the author of his/her estate. Already there has been some house-jumping around electronic rights, and outside companies like Microsoft, Voyager, Sony and Paramount Communications are beginning to grab rights to properties that have not been nailed down.

How best to staff and organize for new media development was the fourth major issue considered, and Peter Mayer is one of a few executives to predict a need to develop his organization to be more flexible. "It's unclear," he says, "whether the same staffs that exist in publishing companies today will be appropriate to the creation, marketing and selling of new products in the world of interactive media. It may be that new media, at least over time, will have to be staffed by people who think in terms of new media itself, as opposed to those who think of a simplistic transference of product from one media format to another."

Who will be the leaders in this new world? Michael Mellin predicts that "the existing leaders in tradebook publishing will be the same further down the line, because no one else knows how to create titles people want to exchange money for. They will harvest the fruits of technology created by other industries."

Michael Wolff, a digital publisher and multimedia consultant, does not agree. He thinks "the new technology will change the definition of who publishers are and what publishers do."

Janet Wikler feels that "whoever goes after market share aggressively will be the future leaders." She sees three choices for tradebook publishers: "They can make a commitment to invest in the future, expand their market share and experience renewed growth; they can dabble, by licensing content to outside companies, in which case they give away the biggest rewards; or they can do nothing at all, in which case their businesses will grow smaller."

Size should be a question of strategy, not a negative outcome from wishing the marketplace would stay the same when it is, in fact, undergoing rapid change. If a publisher wishes to be small by design, then small can be positive. Ironically, it is a large publisher who envisions some opportunities for small publishers. Peter Mayer speaks eloquently about "the high creativity at the production and design end in the world of desktop publishing."

Scott Walker, publisher of Graywolf Press, one of the oldest of the independent literary publishers, is somewhat in sync with Mayer's view of market opportunities for independent, creative publishers. "Since we can operate on all cylinders and afford to change more quickly," he says, "we will produce tasty little CD-ROMs while the big publishers will go in for larger entertainments such as Anne Rice Smellavision."

Charlie Winton, president of Publishers Group West, predicts that "the number of small publishers doing desktop publishing will continue to expand geometrically." The challenge for small publishers is to distinguish themselves from the crowd by establishing a memorable new media imprint. One such company, Broderbund Software, is already gaining a reputation for creative multimedia for children, especially for the Grandma titles and the Carmen Sandiego series.

Most publishers either have found or are currently looking for software partners to whom they may license their content on a short-term basis. Both Random House and Penguin are finding partners. Mayer's strategy for Penguin is to continue to make some strategic acquisitions and/or joint ventures. "We will also license other vendors to adapt products for us in some cases."

Dorling Kindersley has gone as far as forming a limited partnership with Microsoft, and already some of their earliest CD-ROMs have exceeded sales expectations. Paramount Publishing, for its part, has access to a "media kitchen" for electronic research and development through its parent company, and Time-Life plans for new media creation seem to be coming from in-house resources as well. Graywolf plans to develop CD-ROM titles at some point in the future through a limited partnership, while Warner Books took advantage of an opportunity to buy an existing CD-ROM as part of a package from a developer. Most publishers anticipate a new breed of book packager with CD-ROM capability entering the industry in droves.

Putnam's CEO Phyllis Grann says, "Putnam has gone into the children's market with interactive media in a coventure with Bertelsmann. In 1993–94, seven CD-ROM titles will be developed for both the Macintosh and Windows-based computers." Disney will also be a big player in the children's market, utilizing its vast resources of animated content and special-effects technology.

Competition inside and outside the industry for market share should be fierce. One way for publishers to protect themselves from outside competition—both from foreign competitors and computer and communications companies who are busy buying up electronic rights for intellectual content—could be to get together to decide on industry standards.

One such consortium, the Atrium Group, is concerned exclusively with new media, and funds the National Demonstration Laboratory at the Library of Congress. Atrium currently has 19 members (among them, Microsoft, IBM, Paramount Publishing, Bell Atlantic and Philips Interactive of America) who meet with Jacqueline Hess, director of the National Demonstration Laboratory. The group discusses such common issues as intellectual rights, the developing information highway and international information flow.

There was a surprising amount of unanimity in answer to the question of genres. The list consisted of genres that can easily be converted into new media—travel, cookbooks, gardening, how-to, reference, biography, diet, financial, science fiction, children's literature and adult games (where there is some learning involved). This will happen in different ways. Some books will be adapted, like David Macaulay's bestselling The Way Things Work, a natural for the electronic format with its bits of information that can be expanded and linked. Other disks will pull together information from several books, while some will be created from scratch.

The Voyager Company, a nine-year-old publisher, is one of several pioneers in interactive media, bringing together for the first time a literary sensibility, technological know-how and business skills. Voyager now offers 30 CD-ROM titles, including some for children, and "Expanded Books," floppy disks designed for students and scholars.

New media consultant and producer Dr. Dana Ardi suggests that "after reference and how-to, publishers need to plan for the next wave of entertainment/enlightenment." Who knows, maybe even poetry will take off. Although Larry Kirshbaum says "electronic poetry is an oxymoron," Voyager's CD-ROM Poetry in Motion has given niche publishers something to think about.

Book agent Jack Scovil, formerly of the Scott Meredith Agency and now of Scovil, Chichak & Galen, thinks that history books lend themselves to new media. He imagines that "Ken Burns's miniseries of the Civil War, possibly including some virtual reality techniques to place you on the battlefield, might work well on CD-ROM."

Most people in the industry do not think fiction lends itself to new media, though Peter Kindersley doesn't agree. He foresees that "even the novel will become interactive, and therefore more experimental." Scott Walker also predicts that interactive fiction, or hyperfiction, and multimedia narrative will become a new genre.

The pioneer of interactive fiction is Robert Coover, who teaches a Hypertext Fiction Workshop at Brown University. Hyperfiction is also taught at multimedia studies programs in many other universities. However, it is only now that authoring devices are becoming more affordable, although they may still be hard to learn. The Voyager Company's co-director of marketing, Todd Wade, says "the industry is waiting for authoring tools to become fluent and rich enough to support the production of titles that are simple enough to operate and compelling to navigate."

It's not surprising that most people interviewed see the kids of today as the new readers of tomorrow. What is new is how they picture them. Janet Wikler describes this new generation as "more right-brain than left—more visual, more intuitive, more instinctive." Phyllis Grann believes this generation of kids will grow up reading from hand-held computers, although she sees that day as a long way off. "Still," Grann warns, "to prepare for it, we need to become technically astute now." Jack Romanos agrees. He thinks that "the job of the publisher is to stay ahead of the market in terms of taste, so we are looking at the next generation of readers now."

Papanek, Mellin and W. W. Norton president Donald Lamm all think that college campuses are where new media will take off first. This age group is the most computer literate and has the need to learn. All the books currently available to scholars could lend themselves to new media—from economic treatises to literary classics—and many publishers feel that by the end of the decade they will be sending the contents of their textbooks across this network, possibly to be printed on demand in campus bookstores.

Several publishers and agents agree that the consumers who now buy CD-ROM titles are probably the same people who were the first to buy VCRs. Since CD-ROMs are mainly sold in computer stores, it makes sense that the buyers are technologically sophisticated or gadget-oriented. Peter Ginsberg, president of Curtis Brown Ltd., says: "They are the ones who we feel will help shape the future of CD-ROMs and how books are developed in that format."

Phyllis Grann says, "We always respond to quality and readability in our selection of book titles. The same will be true for new media." However, Jacqueline Hess does not think quality content is enough to determine success. "New media require new standards of evaluative criteria," she says, adding that multimedia producers must pay attention to suggested pathways for user navigation because so much rich information can be overwhelming for a user.

John Papanek predicts that "publishers will take more risks in making selections for new media because their profit margins are better than those in book publishing, despite the higher up-front costs."

Making selections for new media brings us to the question of who will write the text. Richard Curtis thinks that "with technological changes in the industry, the role of the author must without question become subordinated to that of the producer." He refers to such individuals as auteurs, the term used for artistic filmmakers.

Jack Scovil anticipates that "the multimedia writer most likely will be just one person on a team."

New media gurus agree on the need to reconsider the whole issue of sales channels for the product. Although superstores have more space and carry more titles, there is some question whether a bookstore is the best or only environment for display and demonstration of CD-ROMs.

Right now CD-ROMs are mainly sold in computer and software stores. Michael Mellin thinks "store chains that are already selling books and other media could become multimedia stores selling many titles in many formats. Bookstores can deal with complexity of titles better than software stores." Todd Wade believes bookstores are open to distributing CD-ROMs. "They are afraid of missing out on an opportunity, as they did with video distribution," he says. And, in fact, Apple and Voyager are planning to test-market bookstore sales of their products at a demonstration kiosk.

Richard Curits predicts, "The major bookstore chains will be bought up by large electronic companies." But Donald Lamm cautions us "not to forget the fudge brownie factor," suggesting that "the need for human contact may become even more important in a cold, technological world. Bookstores, especially bookstores that offer a warm, engaging, responsive environment, may become even more popular as places to go."

Len Riggio, CEO of Barnes & Noble, has made a point of creating the warm sense of place espoused by Lamm and others—a place to sit and leaf through a book. Furthermore, Riggio strongly believes that in the year 2000, books will still make great gifts: "No one's going to give someone a dot."

Munro Magruder, of BMR Associates, a West Coast management consulting firm to the media business, believes the distinctions between entertainment products retailers will become increasingly blurred. "Some of the large superstores, including chains like Tower and Borders and independents like The Tattered Cover, are already embracing an 'entertainment boutique' concept, carrying a range of product offerings that includes books, audio, video and recorded music. When you add electronic delivery into the retailing equation, physical inventory limitations become less of a consideration."

Future electronic delivery of books remains a controversial issue, inspiring the following disparate opinions.

Nion McEvoy, editor-in-chief of Chronicle Books, predicts that "by the year 2000 universal texts will be downloaded to a retailer and the customers will be able to compose their own anthologies at the booksite." Riggio thinks such a service would be "too time-consuming and not economically feasible." However, Mellin believes that it could work, particularly for college bookstores. "There is no question that the price of an already published book would be lower if it is printed digitally on site," says Mellin.

McEvoy agrees with Magruder that "as a result of electronic distribution, there will be less need for physical inventory of information books in a store."

But Stephen M. Lewers, president of paperback publishing at Houghton Mifflin, points out an irony about on-demand printing. "There is no question that for certain kinds of titles, especially out-of-print ones, it is far more efficient. But the end result is a paperback book," he says, suggesting that "on-demand printing for out-of-print books could take place on the publishing house floor if the technology is there."

Glenn Hausman of BiblioBytes sells and distributes books, some of which have gone out of print, through the Internet. Users download a file and read a book on a screen or print pages, in their own chosen typeface. Hausman says, "Traditional publishers are not yet prepared to enter into this market. They don't have the technical know-how and they don't want to alienate existing distribution channels." Yet Barnes & Noble already has an electronic mail-order catalogue on Compuserve, and Waldenbooks is also online. "Perhaps," Scott Walker predicts, "there could be new kinds of bookstores, such as community bookstores or TV subscription book clubs as a result of on-demand printing."

Electronic distribution does not have to be viewed as a threat. There are some advantages, perhaps for everyone. Mellin says that "once we're all networked together, it will also revolutionize the way sales are handled. Orders will be fulfilled instantaneously, and through network connections we can download in-store promotional brochures. We will become better collaborators with bookstores on getting our books to the public."

The future possibilities of customer-designed product is what visionaries like to think about. On-demand ordering takes away the guessing game of how many copies to publish and how many to buy. Janet Wikler believes that "we are now entering the world of mass customization."

Jack Romanos says that "traditional rights packages will get smaller because the reprint issue will become less important. And there will be more coordination in English-language publishing on a worldwide basis. Foreign-language rights will continue to be licensed for the foreseeable future."

John Taylor Williams, copyright law expert and literary agent of Boston's Palmer & Dodge, says, "The grant to a publisher in a standard contract has traditionally included general wording which encompassed 'all new media formats.' Once audio rights became hot properties, authors, agents and publishers began to pay more attention to the bounds of that grant. Now much more negotiating takes place over the specific rights the author will grant. But I already see a tension, since some publishers' new stragetic partners—such as Apple, Microsoft and Voyager—are anxious to create multimedia versions of publishers' back-lists."

He sums up: "Electronic access is a boon for authors and publishers alike; but respect for copyright ownership shouldn't get lost in the melee."

The question of copyright in an electronic world is a tough one. John Taylor Williams says that "online infringement of copyright occurs when one copy of a work in electronic form is bought and then downloaded, that is, copied by the end user. Further infringement occurs when the downloaded copy is made accessible to multiple users via a network." He sees "enforcing electronic rights as a matter of control by license or by a built-in mechanism that monitors usage by the end-user. There will be a need for an electronic tag, some equivalent of a bar code, so that usage will be passed on to a copyright center."

Scott Walker thinks an organization like Compuserve could keep track of downloading from the Internet or any network. To get online a user needs to enter a password, which would be easy to track. Others suggest that publishers need to work right now with the Library of Congress to find a way to monitor usage for copyright. However, Carol Risher, v-p for copyright and new technology of the AAP, does not think "any government agency would have the marketplace experience needed for assessing copyright fees. There is a lot of potential revenue at stake here. The Copyright Clearance Center has, in fact, captured $28 million in copyright fees that might otherwise have been lost to the industry from copy centers."

According to Dana Ardi, "Companies need to change the way they are organized and form team efforts across all business units to come up with successful new media products." She also believes they need to change their thinking about platforms. "Why does there have to be one standard?" she asks. "Why can't this be a multi-platform opportunity?" She says "there are three areas of concern that the industry needs to get together to address. They are: 1) sorting out how the 'guilds' [segments of the industry] will interact; 2) the problem of copyright; and 3) the challenge of finding new and emerging channels of distribution for new media." And in an enthusiastic outburst that best sums up the hopes of more forward-looking publishers about the future of publishing, she adds, "We must begin to publish, taking full advantage of the new tools that the technology will provide."


Hypertext And Hyperfiction


Further Reading