2001: A Digital Book Odyssey
Calvin Reid -- 1/22/01
Small ventures show how e-publishing may--or may not--work in the future
Despite having to surf alternating waves of media hype and industry skepticism about the prospects for e-publishing, e-book entrepreneurs keep on coming up with new ventures. Even as highly touted ventures like Bookface.com fail, a fresh batch of e-book publishers--like Wordbeams.com, Fictionopolis, Rattapallax and AddieBooks.com--are searching for business models and looking to offer innovative e-book formats.
These four digital presses are small, independent and still looking for investors. But each addresses different concerns about the quality, business models and the capabilities of e-books, and they may offer some clues to how e-publishing may (or perhaps may not) function in the future.
Wordbeams.com publishes titles in conventional commercial genres that it claims are rigorously edited for quality. Rattapallax and Fictionopolis both offer literary e-books with multimedia enhancements, and UndergroundE.com, publisher of the AddieBook, probably the quirkiest company of the lot, is planning to offer interactive online e-books supported by advertising and a blizzard of links to both useful information and outright trivia.
Launched in May 2000 by Susan Bodendorfer, Wordbeams.com is an e-book publisher based in Portland, Ore., that looks to offer "edited, quality" adult and children's e-books. The e-house specializes in what Bodendorfer calls "out-of-the-norm cross-genre" titles. Bodendorfer is a former short story and technical
Bodendorfer said that Wordbeams has contracted for some 260 titles; about 50 are currently available for sale through its Web site, as well as through BN.com, Powells.com and, very soon, Amazon.com. Wordbeams offers downloadable e-books for adults and children in html format (unencrypted and readable with a Web browser), Glassbook format and, through a third-party agreement, MS Reader format. Books are also available on diskette. Prices range from $5 for adult titles ($7.50 for diskette) to $3.50 for kids' titles ($6.50 for diskette).
Wordbeams' contract (written by Bodendorfer and posted on the site) gives the publisher one- year exclusive electronic rights and a 90-day escape clause for both parties. Authors get a 35% royalty through the Wordbeams bookstore and 50% royalties on books sold through outside vendors.
Bodendorfer declines to give sales numbers ("we're so new") but pointed to Wordbeam bestsellers like Grave Robbers (No Experience Necessary) by Jeff Strand and A Woman of Valor, a "time-travel romance" by two women writing under the name Janelle Benhay. Bodendorfer works on the site full time and is assisted by her daughter Jen, who serves as WordBeams' senior editor, and by acquisitions editor Carol Apple. "We see a bright future for e-publishing," said Bodendorfer.
Ram Devineni, a p t, filmmaker and computer network developer, is the publisher of Rattapallax Press (www.rattapallax.com), a two-year-old literary journal and book press, and he has a few ideas about e-publishing. "E-books are not digital photography," Devineni said, and he presents his list as an example of e-books that go beyond the presentation of straight text. Rattapallax.com offers titles, mostly p try, in Glassbook, MS Reader and Rocket eBook formats, as well as on CDs. Many Rattapallax titles (PDF only) are designed to integrate Web-based Mp3 sound files and Real Player video clips. Other Rattapallax titles are designed to provide graphics or game-like structure to the process of reading its text.
Devineni is also coordinator of an ambitious international p try project arranged through the United Nations. Devineni is organizing Dialogue Among Civilizations (www.dialoguep try.org), 160 readings to be held March 30 in 130 cities around the world, including readings from Antarctica and from atop Mt. Everest.
Devineni will team up with another e-publishing venture, Fictionopolis, to publish an e-book collection of p try and prose from the reading. Adrian Taylor, the publisher and founder of Fictionopolis.com, said that Fictionopolis eventually will offer a weekly literary e-zine whose content can be uploaded using Avantgo.com, a Web-based service that allows consumers to upload Web content to palm devices and WAP-enabled cell phones. "We're not a revenue-driven publisher at this point," said Taylor. "This is an effort to attract authors to promote their work." The e-book p try anthology will be available for free in MS Reader and Adobe formats, and Taylor told PW that Fictionopolis is working with Qvadis, a Canadian company, to develop Fictionopolis-branded e-book-reader software for palm devices.
"E-books will not replace print books," said Devineni, "but wireless technology will drive their popularity and it will give writers the flexibility to sell their titles direct to the consumer. Publishers will have to adapt."
UndergroundE.com was founded by Todd Hayes, a self-published novelist, who plans to offer a series of books online that will be supported by advertising. Hayes's AddieBook (Ad-sponsored Interactive Electronic Book) titles can be accessed online (prices will be around $5) and the format offers straight text, "enhanced" by hundreds of hyperlinks to all sorts of information, trivia and humorous graphics. Isn't all this likely to be distracting to readers? No, Hayes said, "The links pull you into the book." Hayes told PW that up to 10% of these links will be sponsored by advertisers more or less related to the text, and he expects to market the site to libraries. "Ad revenue means we can keep our prices competitive," Hayes said.
The UndergroundE.com Web site offers a beta version of Hayes's mystery, Flash Fortune. Hayes hopes to offer 10 to 12 online AddieBooks, starting in June. Titles will be a mix of public-domain classics and original fiction. Authors will receive royalties based on advertising revenues.
Questia Academic Site G s Live
Questia Media Inc., the long-awaited online service designed to help college students write research papers, officially opens its doors for business today at www.questia.com. Houston-based Questia's 200 employees have invested more than two years and $100 million developing a comprehensive online collection of scholarly books and journals, coupled with a suite of bibliographic and citation tools. The Questia library offers students subscription access 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to 50,000 humanities titles, a number that is expected to grow rapidly to more than 250,000 titles.
"Questia helps students write better papers faster and easier," said Troy Williams, CEO and founder of Questia Media, Inc. "By providing 24-hour, simultaneous access to the full-text resources that students need, we eliminate the possibility of resources being checked out, out of print or irrelevant."
Users can search the entire Questia library for a word, phrase or concept and find the most relevant paragraphs in the most frequently cited books, journals and periodicals. Questia offers fully integrated research tools and the ability to create personalized texts that can be saved. The service also will automatically generate citations and bibliographies in any of a variety of standard styles. Footnotes within texts are hyperlinked to allow movement among resources.
The pricing structure enables students to subscribe to the service for short or long terms, as needed. Users can run keyword searches of the collection for free, or read the full texts of the books and use the citation tools for $14.95 for 48 hours, $19.95 per month or $149.95 per year. Questia will use the subscription fees to establish a pool of funds from which publishers will be paid, on a prorated basis, for each student page-view of their materials.
Questia employed professional librarians to categorize the collection by topic and relevance, assuring students that their chosen topic will be linked to a wide range of supporting material. The Questia Media library covers a broad range of cultural studies, ranging from African to Turkish studies as well as women's and gay and lesbian studies, plus non-traditional concentrations such as environmental studies and film and media.
Questia's services represent a boon for publishers, both in new income and costs saved. First, Questia pays for all digitization of texts, so production is essentially free for publishers. Second, with all texts accessible only on Questia's servers, and users unable to download or print more than one page at a time, publishers will capture revenue currently going to photocopying services. Third, books never leave the library, and cannot be lost or destroyed, so each title will continue to provide revenue as long as the publisher makes it available. And, finally, revenues are reported on a book-by-book basis, so publishers will know what their best-producing titles are.
More than 150 publishers, mostly academic and scholarly presses, but also including such diverse companies as Brookings Institute and RAND Corp., Facts on File, Harry N. Abrams, Rizzoli USA, Folger Shakespeare Library, Four Walls Eight Windows, Moscow News Press Service, New Directions, Off Our Backs and Regnery Publishing, have signed with Questia to make their books available through the service.
Volume 247 Issue 4 01/22/2001