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A Publishing Revolution?


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On July 11, I posted information in the Forum about how to get your book published by a major book publisher using a literary agent.

Today I wish to call your attention to new technology that permits you to publish your book yourself or to utilize the services of an electronic publisher. No literary agent is required. These alternative means of publishing provide a way to get your book produced economically when you desire only a limited number of printed copies.

Below is an article from The New York Times that summarizes the latest development using free software from the Internet. Beneath the article I have provided a link to this free software as well as links to the four major electronic publishers.

July 20, 2006

The New York Times

Technology Rewrites the Book

By PETER WAYNER

When Steve Mandel, a management trainer from Santa Cruz, Calif., wants to show his friends why he stays up late to peer through a telescope, he pulls out a copy of his latest book, “Light in the Sky,” filled with pictures he has taken of distant nebulae, star clusters and galaxies.

“I consistently get a very big ‘Wow!’ The printing of my photos was spectacular — I did not really expect them to come out so well.” he said. “This is as good as any book in a bookstore.”

Mr. Mandel, 56, put his book together himself with free software from Blurb.com. The 119-page edition is printed on coated paper, bound with a linen fabric hard cover, and then wrapped with a dust jacket. Anyone who wants one can buy it for $37.95, and Blurb will make a copy just for that buyer.

The print-on-demand business is gradually moving toward the center of the marketplace. What began as a way for publishers to reduce their inventory and stop wasting paper is becoming a tool for anyone who needs a bound document. Short-run presses can turn out books economically in small quantities or singly, and new software simplifies the process of designing a book.

As the technology becomes simpler, the market is expanding beyond the earliest adopters, the aspiring authors. The first companies like AuthorHouse, Xlibris, iUniverse and others pushed themselves as new models of publishing, with an eye on shaking up the dusty book business. They aimed at authors looking for someone to edit a manuscript, lay out the book and bring it to market.

The newer ventures also produce bound books, but they do not offer the same hand-holding or the same drive for the best-seller list. Blurb’s product will appeal to people searching for a publisher, but its business is aimed at anyone who needs a professional-looking book, from architects with plans to present to clients, to travelers looking to immortalize a trip.

Blurb.com’s design software, which is still in beta testing, comes with a number of templates for different genres like cookbooks, photo collections and poetry books. Once one is chosen, it automatically lays out the page and lets the designer fill in the photographs and text by cutting and pasting. If the designer wants to tweak some details of the template — say, the position of a page number or a background color — the changes affect all the pages.

The software is markedly easier to use — although less capable — than InDesign from Adobe or Quark XPress, professional publishing packages that cost around $700. It is also free because Blurb expects to make money from printing the book. Prices start at $29.95 for books of 1 to 40 pages and rise to $79.95 for books of 301 to 440 pages.

Blurb, based in San Francisco, has many plans for expanding its software. Eileen Gittins, the chief executive, said the company would push new tools for “bookifying” data, beginning with a tool that “slurps” the entries from a blog and places them into the appropriate templates.

The potential market for these books is attracting a number of start-ups and established companies, most of them focusing on producing bound photo albums. Online photo processing sites like Kodak Gallery (formerly Ofoto), Snapfish and Shutterfly and popular packages like the iPhoto software from Apple let their customers order bound volumes of their prints.

These companies offer a wide variety of binding fabrics, papers, templates and background images, although the styles are dominated by pink and blue pastels. Snapfish offers wire-bound “flipbooks” that begin at $4.99. Kodak Gallery offers a “Legacy Photo Book” made with heavier paper and bound in either linen or leather. It starts at $69.99. Apple makes a tiny 2.6-by-3.5-inch softbound book that costs $3.99 for 20 pages and 29 cents for each additional page.

The nature and style of these options are changing as customers develop new applications. “Most of the people who use our products are moms with kids,” says Kevin McCurdy, a co-founder of Picaboo.com in Palo Alto, Calif. But he said there had been hundreds of applications the company never anticipated: teachers who make a yearbook for their class, people who want to commemorate a party and businesses that just want a high-end brochure or catalog.

Picaboo, like Blurb, distributes a free copy of its book design software, which runs on the user’s computer. Mr. McCurdy said that running the software on the user’s machine saves users the time and trouble of uploading pictures. The companies that offer Web-based design packages, however, point out that their systems do not require installing any software and also offer a backup for the user’s photos.

As more companies enter the market, they are searching for niches. One small shop in Duvall, Wash., called SharedInk.com, emphasizes its traditional production techniques and the quality of its product. Chris Hickman, the founder, said that each of his books was printed and stitched together by “two bookbinders who’ve been in the industry for 30 or 40 years.” The result, he said, is a higher level of quality that appeals to professional photographers and others willing to pay a bit more. Books of 20 pages start at $39.95.

Some companies continue to produce black-and-white books. Lulu.com is a combination printer and order-fulfillment house that prints both color and black-and-white books, takes orders for them and places them with bookstores like Amazon.com.

Lulu works from a PDF file, an approach that forces users to rely on basic word processors or professional design packages. If this is too complex, Lulu offers a marketplace where book designers offer their services. Lulu does offer a special cover design package that will create a book’s cover from an image and handle the specialized calculations that compute the size of the spine from the number of pages and the weight of the paper.

A 6-by-9-inch softcover book with 150 black-and-white pages from Lulu would cost $7.53 per single copy.

These packages are adding features that stretch the concept of a book, in some cases undermining the permanent, fixed nature that has been part of a book’s appeal. The software from SharedInk.com, for instance, lets a user leave out pages from some versions of the book. If Chris does not like Pat, for instance, then the copy going to Chris could be missing the pages with Pat’s pictures.

Blurb is expanding its software to let a community build a book. Soon, it plans to introduce a tool that would allow group projects, like a Junior League recipe book, to be created through Blurb’s Web site. The project leader would send out an e-mail message inviting people to visit the site and add their contributions to customized templates, which would then be converted into book pages.

“Books are breaking wide open,” Ms. Gittins said. “Books are becoming vehicles that aren’t static things.”

http://www.blurb.com/

http://www.infinitypublishing.com/about_us.htm

http://www2.xlibris.com/

http://www.authorhouse.com/

http://www.iuniverse.com/

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On July 11, I posted information in the Forum about how to get your book published by a major book publisher using a literary agent.

Amazon.com has purchased a company called BookSurge to provide one-stop shopping for on-demand printing of low volume books and getting them sold direct through amazon. Amazon.com takes their customary 55%, of course, but that's independent of the publishing end. The new aspect is getting one-at-a-time or low-volume printing at very reasonable costs, via BookSurge which ties into amazon. So somebody can order the book from amazon, and it will printed on the spot and delivered as if it had been sitting in a warehouse. This is a revolution, and we can expect many more misspellings and abuses of grammar in the books we read. :-)

An informal survey: would anybody be interested in printed paperback book versions of things like the Lopez Report, the HSCA Report and its appendix volumes, Church Committee Reports, or other JFK assassination govt. reports - perhaps even the 26 volumes? The technology is all there for these to be reprinted and sold at reasonable costs.

Rex

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[quote name='Rex Bradford' date='Jul 21 2006, 10:40 PM' post='69655']

On July 11, I posted information in the Forum about how to get your book published by a major book publisher using a literary agent.

Doug and Rex:

Many thanks for this vital information. As many forum members are well aware, these topics are not exactly what publishers are seeking. My friend Barr McClellan had a book in search of a publisher for many years prior to its debut in 10/03. (Blood Money and Power: How LBJ Killed JFK). Those of us very much involved in researching the TX angle of this case knew only too well that Barr's finding someone brave enough to publish his first person account- ( as one of LBJ's prior attorneys)- was a major accomplishment. So for authors who are not as dilligent, successful ( and lucky! ) as Barr, this inofrmation is very crucial.

Great post guys!

Dawn

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An informal survey: would anybody be interested in printed paperback book versions of things like the Lopez Report, the HSCA Report and its appendix volumes, Church Committee Reports, or other JFK assassination govt. reports -

As someone who has spent countless hours browsing used book stores, I can testify that The HSCA report is very hard to find. A well-bound paper copy of the Report should be in big demand among researchers. While one can get by with the 12 volume appendix you have made available at the History-Matters website, the HSCA Report itself is a MUST HAVE for every researcher.

perhaps even the 26 volumes? The technology is all there for these to be reprinted and sold at reasonable costs.

Rex

Once again the History - Matters site does a wonderful job on the first fiteen volumes of WC testimony. The researcher's only real problem is with the 11? volumes of exhibits, which are difficult to work with online. At a time when sets of the 26 volumes are selling at around $1500, I predict considerable demand for printed copies of the exhibit volumes once the word spreads that they are available (slightly enlarged and darkened in places?) at an affordable price.

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Rex Bradford asked:

An informal survey: would anybody be interested in printed paperback book versions of things like the Lopez Report, the HSCA Report and its appendix volumes, Church Committee Reports, or other JFK assassination govt. reports - perhaps even the 26 volumes? The technology is all there for these to be reprinted and sold at reasonable costs.

Heck no Rex. You see, when I need to access the above information, I go to this website called History Matters. All of the mentioned resources are there, free and easily accessible. It is my understanding that one guy spent a lot of time scanning the documents, a very unselfish act. The search function makes finding a particular excerpt easy. And the the Mary Ferrell Foundation's website has quickly become an equally valuable resource. The video clips are awesome.

There was a time when the 26 volumes of the Warren Commission and the entire HSCA report were valuable tools for the researcher. Now those GPO productions have been relegated to collector's items sold on eBay or tomes collecting dust on people's bookshelves. In fact, it is the internet that has hastened their demise as actual research tools. The sum effects of the internet information revolution on history are enormous, but inestimable in my opinion.

Rex, I would like to echo John Simkin's sentiments in welcoming you to this forum. The value of your efforts towards making valuable information accessible online cannot be overstated. I truly appreciate what you have done and are doing. And in addition, from your relatively few posts here, I've already learned a lot.

Your contributions to history and further understanding the events surrounding the murder of President Kennedy assure you a place in the researcher's Hall of Fame.

Thanks a lot Rex. Best wishes.

Mike Hogan

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I have also been keeping a close watch on how technology is influencing the publishing industry. I have been involved in the industry since 1979. I got together with a group of history teachers and formed a cooperative to produce textbooks for schools. We did this because mainstream publishers were refusing to innovate. The publishing industry is by nature very conservative. They only tend to publish books that they know will sell. As they are unwilling to take risks, they tend to imitate past successes (the film industry works in a very similar way). I read an interesting article a couple of years ago about how every innovation in the book industry had come from a small publisher. When this innovation proves successful, it is imitated by the major companies and becomes part of the mainstream.

The emergence of the internet changed publishing for good. I was running a conventional book publishing company, Spartacus Educational, at the time. I came to the conclusion that technology was going to make it more difficult for the small company to survive. However, if the small publishers took to the internet they could make it difficult for the multinationals. I took the decision to become an internet publisher. From that date on, September 1997, all my work has been published free on the web. I believed that in time students would get most of their information from the web rather than books. (This actually took more time than I initially thought). Whereas small publishers would be able to make a reasonable living from selling advertising on their website, it would be impossible for multinationals to compete because of their high overheads. This has proved correct. None of the major publishers have been able to make money from conventional publishing. They have tried creating subscription sites but people are unwilling to pay for material that they can get free from other sites.

The same thing is happening to the newspaper industry. Most young people are getting their news from free websites. They are also attracted to news that comes from small, independent organizations. We are in the process of watching a revolution taking place. The multinational corporations are losing their power to shape our consciousness.

The problem is, as it always has been, is one of distribution. How do people find what you have written? Initially through search-engines but once they know of your existence, they bookmark your site and become a regular visitor. As I explained on the Google thread, it is vitally important for like-minded people to work together if this revolution is going to be successful. This forum is part of this process.

I think it is important to consider the way technology can influence the content of books. For example, Larry Hancock will soon be publishing the second edition of Someone Would Have Talked. This is a book that has been discussed on the forum. In fact, over the last two years, there have been 254 postings on the book and 18,650 page views of our discussions. Larry has told me that these discussions have influenced the contents of the second edition. I believe that this marks a new way of writing books.

For example, it seems to me that the best way to write a book about the JFK assassination is to publish it initially on a forum like this. Doing it chapter by chapter, your readers would give you instant feedback. This is especially important if your readers are experts in the subject. It is a bit like writing your PhD. However, instead of one supervisor, you have several hundred. The manuscript is then revised as a result of the comments made and is then published in book form. It can either be done like Doug suggests or you could go to a mainstream publisher. Remember, distribution is still a key issue when publishing conventional books. However, web networks can still play an important role in this. For example, see what MySpace is doing to the record industry.

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  • 3 months later...
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An informal survey: would anybody be interested in printed paperback book versions of things like the Lopez Report, the HSCA Report and its appendix volumes, Church Committee Reports, or other JFK assassination govt. reports - perhaps even the 26 volumes? The technology is all there for these to be reprinted and sold at reasonable costs.

Rex

Rex, I wonder if you have reached any decisions on this?

IMO it would be wonderful if Sylvia Meagher's Suject Index could be reissued in print or, perhaps even better, on the internet. I suspect Gerald McKnight or Hood College may have the rights to this work.

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