In arguably the most ambitious e-book initiative to come from a major New York publisher to date, Time Warner Trade Publishing has launched iPublish.com, a comprehensive e-publishing site that will not only offer original and backlist e-books but also looks to expand and experiment with ways to solicit, develop and acquire new writing via the Web.
iPublish has been releasing 25 to 50 e-books (some original works and some simultaneous with print) each month since September 2000, but the launch of the iPublish.com Web site will focus on creating an online community of writers and editors. IPublish.com will offer traditional print titles and print-on-demand books; experiment with short and serial narratives; study ways to publish effectively in digital formats; and solicit feedback from readers and writers about how to market, promote and sell e-books.
"IPublish.com redefines publishing as we know it," claimed Larry Kirshbaum, chairman/CEO of TWTP. "It brings writers, readers and editors together in a new and powerful way that will permanently impact the industry."
Gregory Voynow, senior v-p and general manager of iPublish.com, told PW that the new site features three areas: iWrite, the online writers community and submissions area; iRead, a online e-bookstore; and iLearn, an online writers workshop that incorporates message boards, chat rooms and online writing courses.
The iWrite area is an effort (unprecedented for a major corporate book publisher) to create an online community of writers who will critique and rate each others' work, and will pass on the best material to in-house editors at iPublish for consideration. Voynow described iWrite as a "meritocracy. We're trying to find quality writers, extend the publishing landscape and reach new, targeted audiences. The best writing will rise to the top. The service is free—we're not selling publishing services."
To become a member of the iWrite community, writers must read and rate a set number of works; iPublish.com editors will consider the highest-rated works for publication. IPublish.com requires 90 days exclusive submission of material (for the rating process) and exclusive rights to the work if it decides to publish. The iPublish.com contract offers 24% royalty on net revenues up to $25,000, and 50% royalty afterward. Voynow said that iPublish will offer advances to writers only for print editions.
"This is the engine of our publishing program," said Voynow. "With e-publishing, we can publish a variety of books in sizes that you couldn't market or sell in print."
The site's iRead section is an online bookstore featuring iPublish.com titles and editor recommendations. And while trade book publishers have always done some direct selling to consumers, the site may cause some controversy in the bookseller community. "We're selling e-books, but we're not out to compete with bookstores," Voynow was quick to explain. "It's to get feedback, to help us figure out how to promote our books."
The iLearn section is free and will offer online seminars in writing and on issues related to the publishing industry. Authors (Anita Shreve is the first online lecturer) and iPublish.com editors will provide information and guidance to the community. "We want writers to come us," said Voynow. "We're trying to maximize our connections to writers."
Since January 2001, said Claire Zion, editorial director of iPublish.com, the company has had "an aggressive backlist program," offering fiction and nonfiction e-books from Walter Mosley, Bill Cosby, Richard Baldacci, David Foster Wallace and many others. "One of the beauties of online publishing is that you can offer it all," said Zion. "E-book editions of bestsellers sell best; genres do well; there is a fiction market for shorter or serial works; and we're doing many more business books. But I like long things. Which forms are most important to consumers? Short stories? Self-help? Through the site, we can talk directly to consumers and find out."
Pricing for e-books will be aggressive, from $4.95 up to about $14.95, said Hilary Lifton, director of electronic business development. The site will offer e-books in four formats: Gemstar eBooks, Adobe Reader, Palm Reader and MS Reader. Lifton said the site will partner with online retailers such as BN.com, Powells, Contentville, Mightywords and BookSite. And the site will offer an affiliate program to specialized Web sites looking to set up customized bookstores.
"All the e-commerce stuff that publishers talk about, we're doing" said Lifton, "We want to make it easy for consumers to find and buy e-books."