Technical bookseller Fatbrain.com created a stir last week when it announced the impending launch of eMatter, a secure content-delivery system that it will operate off the Fatbrain site.
eMatter allows publishers and authors to upload works and customers to download them to their PCs and, eventually, to their e-book devices. (At the moment, the only available e-book devices use HTML files, and Fatbrain's content is not compatible with this format.) The idea, explained Fatbrain CEO Chris MacAskill, is to allow books that are 10-100 pages long to be distributed for a profit. "There's a vast range of material that could be published that is too small for a full-length book," he said. "This is a way to get shorter works to market quicker." The company believes that longer titles are not suited to eMatter because most consumers won't want to read that much on a screen, but that improving screen and printer technology could change that.
MacAskill emphasized that the present uses for eMatter are many. Large publishers can use it as a promotional tool or to sell novellas and individual stories. Some foreign sales, currently prohibited by high import and freight charges, will be facilitated. Magazines and newspapers can offer entire issues through eMatter. And authors can dispatch revisions and addenda in a secure and profitable way. The company said that Macmillan, McGraw-Hill and O'Reilly & Associates have already signed up.
O'Reilly president Tim O'Reilly touted the advantages: "Up until now, publishers have been faced with a choice between selling printed books and providing material for free online and hoping to make money through advertising or low-cost subscriptions. Fatbrain.com's eMatter gives us the best of both worlds."
Fatbrain's security measures were developed, in separate partnerships, with Microsoft and Adobe. Authors and publishers will be able to issue material as Microsoft Word documents or Adobe PDF files.
The program, which will launch on October 18, bears certain similarities to Richard Curtis's eReads (see feature, June 14). (MacAskill said that when he logged on to Curtis's site, he was struck by how similar the two were.) It's notable, however, that Fatbrain is the first online bookseller to enter the digital distribution game so ambitiously.
Fatbrain will allow publishers to set prices, with a minimum price of $2. Revenues will be split 50-50 between the bookseller and the content provider.
eMatter is not related to Fatbrain's recent on-demand initiatives, though the company hopes that both programs will allow for quicker, cheaper publishing.
As Fatbrain continues to move into new areas, it reported that online sales rose 132% to $5.8 million for the second quarter ended July 31, 1999. The jump in online sales offset declines in the company's retail, trade show and book fair operations, where sales fell 33% to $1.6 million. Total revenues at the company were up 53% to $7.4 million, and its net loss increased to $5.9 million from $2 million in the second quarter of fiscal 1999. During the quarter the specialty retailer increased its customer base to 138,000 and added 800 new corporate accounts.
For the first six months of fiscal 2000, total sales rose 46.7% to $13.5 million, while its net loss deepened to $11.1 million from $3.7 million.