Paul F. Peacock - Electronic Publishing

Electronic Publishing:

What is it and why does it mean Choice?

Paul F. Peacock, September 1993

This article grew out of some of the interchanges that I
saw on the Internet having to do with electronic publishing
(ep). I thought that an article giving the perspective of
somebody who is within the industry at ground level (or
perhaps, more appropriately, ground zero) might be of
service to people interested in ep. From a philosophical
standpoint section 1.1 is the most important.
One caveat: this article is an update of one I wrote in
early 1993 for our electronic magazine/sampler "New Worlds".
If you are reading this more than six months from September
1993 it's out of date. Contact me for an update (see
Resources, section 5.0).
This version has the following sections (all of which
are my opinion and some of which are sub-divided):

1.0 About the Author, by the Author
1.1 Why does ep mean Choice?
2.0 Electronic publishing today
2.1 Production
2.1.1 First-rung
2.1.2 Second-rung
2.1.3 Third-rung
2.1.4 Online delivery services
2.2 What books are suitable now?
2.2.1 First-rung
2.2.2 Second-rung
2.2.3 Third-rung
2.2.4 Online delivery services
2.3 Who's buying this stuff..?
2.4 ...and why would I want to?
3.0 Why should print publishing inherit electronic
4.0 Where does this leave university presses?
5.0 Resources
6.0 Knowledge Central - EP Fantasy #1
7.0 Where does hypertext fit in?

1.0 About the author, by the author.

I am a poet. I am also a computer person and have been
involved with computers for over sixteen years. I started
in ep focusing on publishing on regular 3.5/5.25 inch disks
- what is now known as disktop (as opposed to desktop)
publishing. This was because I wanted to mix my vocation
with my avocation. We started up in March 1991.

The name of the company is Floppyback Publishing
International and we have 35 titles in our catalog ranging
from six books we did for Rutgers University Press to poetry
by Norman Rosten (librettist for the opera Marilyn at the
New York State Opera this fall) to a thriller by Matthew
Paris, originally published in 1973. We also do consulting
on ep.

I started in this because I saw in ep three things:

1) a way to make a living
2) a way to allow (immediately) good work that was not
commercially viable to get out and
3) a means to work towards a better world through a
universal availability of ideas.

I am on the Board of Directors of the Digital Publishing
Association and am a US representative for "The Electronic
Author", a biannual magazine put out by the UK Society of
Authors, the trade-union for authors in the UK.

1.1 Why does ep mean choice?

Quite simply because the phrase "electronic publishing"
contains within it the word "electronic". This lets the
computer industry into the game. This means that everything
that applies in a general way to the personal computer
software industry applies to the electronic publishing
industry. This means:

a) for the first time there is an alternative, proven
method of distribution of multiple copies of the work
of an author or editor (this is how the PC software
industry makes its living). This is a biggie.

b) The cost of making copies of said work is very low
and, theoretically, infinite (this is how the PC
software industry makes its big money).

c) Improvements in technical aspects of production and
display of the work will come extraordinarily rapidly
(in 1982 the first IBM PC was introduced - it had two
diskette drives, no hard drive and cost $5,000.
Today, ten years on, there are tens of millions of
PCs in use, all highly developed) driving down costs
even further. I.e., electronic publishing will move
at the speed of the PC industry, not the print
publishing industry.

d) The cost barrier to entry into the business is very,
very low, low enough to be met by an individual.
This is another biggie. In essence, any person who
has a PC and a little software can write a book and
distribute it to potentially millions of people (via
electronic bulletin board systems or the Internet).
Assume for a moment that it is something everyone
wants to read and is so distributed. Millions of
people read it. Before the advent of the personal
computer this simply was not possible.

These are the reasons that this is such a powerful
thing, with number four the main reason. Number four
changes pretty much everything in the long run.

2.0 Electronic publishing today

I have tried, as far as I am able, to piece together the
state of the industry today and not to wander into the

2.1 Production

I believe that the easiest way to think of ep today is
as a ladder. As one goes up the ladder, cost of production
increases, but so does the gee-whiz factor. Therefore:

2.1.1 First-rung

Disktop (not desktop) publishing. Publication of
material on 3.5" and 5.25" inch disk for IBM and compatible
PCs and Apple machines. Lots of different software
available. One starts with plain ASCII text and then adds

The advantage of this market is that there is a massive
installed base of "players" i.e., personal computers -
estimates range from 40-60 million machines. Mike Weiner,
President of Microlytics thinks this is a sleeper market -
the cost of goods is good for anything less than 20Mb of
text/graphics. (On one 3.5 inch disk we can easily fit a
1000 page book - text only, no graphics).

The disadvantage is that once graphics are introduced
you simply run out of memory if you intend the electronic
book to run from the diskette. If you are happy to have
people download onto their hard-drive it's a different
story. Knowledge Adventure published a $45 interactive
encyclopedia for kids which sits on the hard drive and
expected to sell 500 in three months. They sold 5,000 the
first day.

This then naturally leads you to the next rung:

2.1.2 Second-rung

CD-ROM (or Read Only Memory). Can store the equivalent
of 1800 regular 5.25 inch _diskettes_. Thus entire
encyclopedias can fit on one CD (as indeed they do).
Standards are coming together. A much smaller installed
base, but growing all the time. But the massive storage of
the CD-ROM allows for sound and video clips. Prices are
also dropping

- Compton NewMedia sells some CDs for $29.95.

Portable devices. Use smaller CD-ROMs than regular
sizes or credit card-size memory cards (e.g. Franklin) which
can hold up to 45Mb of compressed data.

The best example here is the new SONY DD-20B, to be
released in the US on October 1 1993 with a suggested retail
of $399, packaged with an encyclopedia and a translator. It
plays 3" CDs which can hold up to 6 hours of audio, 100,000
pages of text or 32,00 graphics. Frequently it will combine
written material with the sound - so the translator disc
allows you to find frequently spoken phrases and then speaks
them out loud to you, in three or four different languages.
The device can be connected to a TV set. Clearly this is
too expensive for everyone to have and the screen display is
too small but SONY is ploughing on in the right direction.
Xerox has just created a 600 dpi resolution screen and when
this is combined with a slightly better designed SONY
hand-held device at a lower price point - watch out. SONY
has leap-frogged Franklin Electronics here.

2.1.3 Third-rung

CD-I. Interactive CD that plays in its own player hooked
to the TV.

Other esoteric devices.

2.1.4 On-line delivery services

The latest Steve King short-story was available only
from the online Internet bookstore for two weeks prior to
its publication in paper. Viking, his publisher, intended
it as an advertising gimmick but it's dangerous for them.
If Mr. King makes money from the online downloading service
he has got to be thinking that maybe for some work he won't
go through his publisher for at all - he'll just cut a deal
with the online bookstore directly...

2.2 What kind of books are suitable now?

2.2.1 First-rung

Disktop publishing on floppyback: Disktop publishing is
ideally geared to the publication of the single book
translated from a printed book. One book fits on one disk
with its associated software. To use a CD-ROM for one
text-only book is overkill.

I think that these are the type of books we will see on
disk right now:

1) Books that are commercially unviable any other way.
The good thing about disktop publishing is that it is
inexpensive to produce a quality product on disk.
Once produced it never goes out of print. Production
cost from a final manuscript is generally less than
$1,000. Cost of reproduction is tiny (less than $1)
and so break-even can be down at the 80 copies level.

If you sell directly there is no warehousing cost -
as orders come in you just pull another copy off the
disk - and since it never goes out of print you can
expand your horizon for those 80 copies to, well,
theoretically forever, but let's say 10 years. So if
you have a book that you think will sell 8 copies a
year for ten years you now have a way of publishing
it (and of course the breakeven may be even less).
Big trade publishers may not want to do this, but I
don't think this is the case for smaller presses and

This category includes poetry which is why I got into
this business in the first place.

2) Books that are out-of-print that you want to make
available again (really a subset of 1.)

3) Books for which the new medium offers advantages -
such as global searching or linking to existing
systems (better help documents) etc.

4) Books which ARE commercially viable but for which the
new format allows a better price-point. This is
particularly true of scholarly works which have only
a small audience, so have a small print run and go
out-of-print quickly, so are expensive, so have only
a small audience ad infinitum.

5) Books marketed by their authors.

6) Mainstream books after they come out in paperback.

At this stage, therefore, the paperback best-seller will
not appear on disk. The number of players (either personal
computers or hand-held or CD-ROM) is not (yet) large enough
to match the market.

2.2.2 Second-rung

Because of its immense storage capacity, and the power
of the personal computer to manipulate data, reference works
which usually require some kind of search are a natural for
CD-ROM. Now you can whip through the entire twenty-six
volume encyclopedia and find all references to the word
"mammal" in about 1 minute. So big reference works are good
for this medium. As are how-to books where animation, sound
and video clips are all useful. This is where multi-media
got its name. Not just words, but sound and moving
pictures. Multi-media projects are being put together which
did not start out as books but were conceived as electronic
products. All of this production cost is, however, still
fairly expensive and the bigger the project the less easy it
is for the average consumer to download material (because of
the length of time.)

2.2.3 Third-rung

We are now out of the realm of converting books into
another medium and talking about projects which could be
considered only electronically. You certainly could put
text alone on these mediums but what's the point?

2.2.4 Online delivery services

Currently I think all the types of book that are
suitable for disks would fit here as does anything
interactive: i.e., where it's not downloaded but just
interacted with.

2.3 Who's buying this stuff...?

In the main, libraries, schools and businesses are
buying CD-ROM. E.g.,. Dartmouth College Library spent 2.5
times as much on CD-ROM as books last year. Home computer
users are buying CD-ROM drives mainly for their kids. The
Optical Publishing Association (OPA) says the average
CD-ROM duplication order has grown from 460 copies in 1990
to over 20,000 today, although this last figure is

Franklin has sold 6 million hand-held integrated
devices. The Apple Newton (an indicator of how many SONY
machines may sell) is rumoured to have sold upwards of
50,000 units. The OPA estimates 5 million CD-ROM drives
will be sold in 1993. 26 million Americans have home
computers (more than own audio CD players).

2.4 ...and why would I want to?


1) Because it's not available any other way.
2) Because you can do things with it that a book can't
do for you.
3) Because it feels more natural - the current
generation that is in K6 education (the IBM personal
computer was introduced in 1982) and well-versed
computer literates (many of those at college).
4) Because it's more convenient - less weight, less
space. See also the note on the new SONY above in
section 2.1.2. Obviously as time goes by the reasons
will increase as resistance based on difficulty of
use or cumbersomeness decline as the technology

3.0 Why should print publishing inherit electronic

I hope that by now you are able to see the answer -
there is no overriding reason at all. Print publishing has
the potential to inherit electronic publishing, but so does
the PC software industry, and that industry is moving faster
than a speeding bullet while the print publishing industry
is sitting on its hands.

What the print publishing industry has, which the PC
software industry lacks, is content. Just like fossil
fuels, the copyrights that the print publishing industry
holds are, potentially, only a one-time resource. For
example - Microsoft Publishing approaches Mr. S. King (or in
fact his agent) and says "we would like you to do your next
novel on CD- ROM. We will give you the best editors money
can buy (and believe us we have lots of money), more money
per copy so that your take will be larger than if you went
into the printed word--even if the total sales are smaller.
We will even coordinate the release of this work onto many
other different platforms - Franklin, CD-I and so on. And
you can include pictures and scary noises. And if you want
to release it in hardcover in six months go ahead." What is
Mr. King going to say? And what will he say in five
years when the technology is even further advanced? And what will
all the other authors have to say? (NB: I left this last
paragraph in because I wanted to pat myself on the back. I
wrote it in early 1993 way before anyone knew what Mr. King
was going to do on the Internet. Call it my reward for this
article. PFP. 9/19/93)

Currently the print publishing industry has access to
content and good editing/preparation skills and a
distribution system. The giants have money, the others
none. I predict that the current crop of electronic
publishers will work with print publishers on licensing
deals until they understand the acquisition of content and
then that will be it. And let's not forget that an
individual can release a work to millions of people for next
to nothing.

Print publishers MUST learn how to publish
electronically - how to create the physical object and
distribute it. Or they will eventually bear as much
relationship to the publishing business as hand-letter
presses do to the publishing world today. They have a
slight advantage now (if they can hold onto it, and it is
not at all clear that they can) and that is their
intellectual property rights. They are essentially sitting
on a fossil-fuel reserve of material and are preaching
caution. I cannot understand why SONY or someone just
doesn't buy a small publishing house, beef up the editorial
staff, shut down the printing end and just get cracking at
publishing its own material.

I agree entirely with those who say that printed
publishing will never entirely disappear - this point of
view misses the point. Printed publishing will gradually
become just a tiny piece of the publishing industry.

4.0 Where does this leave university presses?

In a certain sense, I think, in a quandary. I think
that one has to ask the question, What is the mission? If
it is the dissemination of information to as many people as
possible at the lowest possible cost then there are many
books that you probably currently produce that you should
consider immediately switching to the electronic format,
because the break-even point is that much lower, they never
go out of print - provided of course that the target
audience all have access to PCs.

This primarily includes text-only work. I am thinking
here of books of research papers and so on. And as time
goes by and the technology to store and display pictures
improves everything would have to go over. And, in another
sense, in a good position. Because in the new electronic
age "brand-name" awareness is all important. Quality is
indicated by the brand-name which has value all its own.
When the only visible manifestation of a work is a disk (and
all disks are basically alike) the brand-name on that disk
is all important. And, perhaps, for those presses that
embrace the technology, happy. One can now produce more
than ever before for the same cost.

5.0 Resources:

Floppyback Publishing International
PO Box 2084
Hoboken NJ 07030

Voice: (201) 963 3012 9-5 EST
Fax: (201) 420 8751
E-Mail: Compuserve 71702,154

Digital Publishing Association
R. Albright
1160 Huffman Road
Birmingham Road AL 35215

Voice: 205 853 8269
Fax: 205 853 8478
BBS: 205 854 1660

E-Mail: Compuserve 75166,2473
GEnie R.Albright (the DPA has a roundtable

6.0 Knowledge Central - EP Fantasy #1.

The following material is strictly late-night fantasy
reading.... I have included it just as an example of what
electronic publishing can accomplish. Of course, if anyone
is interested in exploring this further, drop me a line.
And, of course, remember that a fantasy is not hard-edged

All the non-fiction material that is currently produced
in book form is wasted if it cannot be accessed by
electronic systems and thus linked to anything else. There
is too much information being produced in the world for an
individual to absorb in a 70 year life span without
electronic help. The absence of such electronic help is
therefore holding up the future of the human race. We now
have the power to change this.

In an ideal world the government would:

a) recognise that data highways are as important a
public good as road-ways and make available free of charge
data communication networks.

b) require all publishers who want an ISBN number to
deposit a copy of their work in ASCII in a central location,
like the Library of Congress, where it would become the
electronic basis for Knowledge Central.

In this concept anyone could hook into Knowledge Central
and do any kind of search they wanted. They would not, of
course, be able to download the work they were searching.
They could only look at it on the screen. At the heart of
Knowledge Central is a giant search engine which would have
the capacity to search everything. Everything then would be
automatically linked. If you are in a book and you put your
cursor on a word, then the system will display the first
hundred closest things it can think of - starting with a
definition and gradually moving outwards in circles from
your original starting point. You should also be able to
jump to the next hundred and so on. Start with non-fiction
and use the Dewey system as the guidance point. I.e., move
back up levels as time goes by.

The key to Knowledge Central is that the links are not
embedded in the texts, which would mean a lot of work, but
are created by the software that resides in Knowledge
Central. For example the cursor is placed under the word
"castles". If requested the software will ask questions to
deduce context and then run from there. No links are
embedded in the text which uses the word "castles."

What will be displayed will be book titles. I.e., the
first 100 titles that mention the word you chose. Or if you
chose a reference you will immediately jump to that. In the
beginning the system will ask, if it is unsure, Is this a
title? Later on it will know automatically and, later on,
Knowledge Central will publish rules that publishers will
have to adhere to if they wish the search software to find
them (and why would they not, since this will be free

This can start in 1993 if we so desire. We have all the
ASCII text already since everything now comes back from the
typesetters in that form. The timescale for adding other
books can be as short or as long as people desire.
Knowledge Central will be accessible via the Internet. The
development of the software for the Knowledge Central would
be a public project and the software thus created would be
in the public domain. This will create ipso facto the
standard. All information created in the creation of the
software will be in the public domain and continuously
updated as time goes by so everyone knows everything that is
going on.

In one year approximately 40,000 books come into print.
Assume that each book has on average 500 pages and each page
needs 2K. This is 40,000 x 500 x 2,000 characters i.e.,
40,000,000,000 or 40Gb of data. This is nothing for today's
computer systems. It's actually probably a lot more because
of the graphics but who cares even if it's 100 times more?
It's all do-able.

The implications of KC are staggering, not merely in
what it means, but in the fact that it is do-able.... We
have Prodigy, we have the Internet, we have all of our books
in digitized format.

Consider this...Motorola is creating the Iridium
project. With a hand-held communicator connected to KC over
a 14,000 baud internal radio modem anyone anywhere in the
world, from the hottest desert to the deepest jungle to the
highest mountain, will be able to access and search the
combined knowledge base of the entire American publishing
industry and, later, the world. By implication this is the
storehouse of all of mankind's knowledge. And it doesn't
have to sit in one place.

Other countries will want to join in. It will be easy
to charge for downloads from KC, to charge for overseas
access. As other countries do join in, research will start
for on-the-fly translation so that foreign language editions
will no longer be needed.

If someone wants the complete text of a book then they
will pay a fee and it will be delivered to them
electronically. Browsing of KC will, however, be free,
since it will be over government supplied roads. And the
analogy with roads follows just as surely because there will
be congestion - people will leave their systems on all day
and so on.

6.1 How to Start Knowledge Central (in theory).

1. Obtain space on a system capable of holding the

2. Write the software that will compress and search the
ASCII files.

3. Get publishers to deposit ASCII files into the
computer by government fiat.

4. Get the government to pay for the data lines so that
connect time is truly free.

5. Launch.

6.2 Why it is impractical to do this today.

Because of many things, Virginia.

6.3 How to Start Knowledge Central (in practice).

Use books that are in the public domain, or out-of-print
and for which the authors have no objections. All other
considerations apply. Get a pilot project started. Appeal
for the development of the software. Solve the problem in
increments, like the Japanese.

6.4 How it will be for our Grandchildren

Knowledge Central will grow to include everything -
sound recordings, moving pictures and text. To prevent
abuse of the sound and moving pictures systems interactivity
will be limited to x minutes duration. Maybe for certain
consumer products this will be entered x years after

6.5 What to do now?

1. Alert the media and government.

2. Start to find computer industry types who might be
interested - supplying equipment and software.

3. Start to find publishers of scholarly material (and
scholars) who might be interested.

6.6 What to do with material that does not exist in
digital format?

In a few years scanners will be here that allow us to
scan everything as cheaply as dirt and as accurate as
reading. Until then we take the top twenty books which are
classics in their field and appeal for donations from the
public to put them into Knowledge Central. In fact, this is
how we will support this. People will put books into
Knowledge Central as dedications for their loved ones.

7.0 Where does hypertext fit in?

In this note I have written about ep in the context of
the current print publishing industry. In other words, I
have taken the book and extrapolated its development, in a
commercial sense, into electronic media.

The following paragraphs are how I currently think about
hypertext and its commercial acceptance.

I think the word "hypertext" has been debased. It seems
to me that in the general run of things, a piece of work is
now defined as hypertext when in fact (in many cases) it is
a linear piece of work onto which the ability to jump from
certain points to certain other points has been grafted
(this is not inherently bad). This seems to me a partial
implementation of hypertext in the strictest sense of the
word, but if this is what the word currently means then an
alternative definition is now needed.

If the current definition of hypertext really means
"partial net" I define a full-fledged hypertext (ffh) as a
complete net. As such it cannot, by definition, be printed
(put into the linear form of sequential pages) without
losing its structure. There are of course lesser or greater
degrees of implementation of hypertext, but I think this
definition of ffh will serve. When I refer to linear-
text-with-jumping-ability I will refer to partial net
hypertext (pnh).

Thus I currently define the implementation of hypertext
in two ways: pnh for a partial implementation and ffh for a
complete implementation.

As publishing mechanisms exist today, ffh is ideally
suited to short-entry reference works, which are nets
themselves. The ultimate ffh is the humble dictionary.
Other non-fiction may be suited to ffh, or some lesser
degree of implementation of hypertext, i.e., pnh. The
problem with current fiction is that time is an element.
And time, obviously, as understood by most people who buy
books today, is linear and goes only one-way (forward). Ffh
does not, therefore, have a fit, although pnh may.

I do not think, therefore, that the translation of
current fiction into ffh is going to work. Peoples' ideas
of what constitutes fiction will have to change first and I
confess that I don't have a paradigm for that because,
although I can think of a number of obvious advantages that
hypertext gives to fiction, I cannot think of a way of
getting round the always onward linear track that time
requires; and so I don't see how one can implement ffh into
fiction (because with a net there is no "forward" or
"backward") (unless one disregards time altogether). I am
not talking about pnh here.

Thus I place hypertext into ep in the following way: Ffh
(or the net style of organization) is a tool that can only
be fully realized within ep. Current work will be
electronically published with a lesser or greater degree of
implementation of hypertext as fits. Ep, however, can very
easily stand alone from hypertext, i.e., there are many
reasons why one would want to use ep without including

Brand new non-fiction works written specifically for the
electronic media will ALL include elements of hypertext,
i.e., use pnh. For some, ffh will be the right way to go.
Brand new fiction works written for ep may or may not
include elements of hypertext. In my opinion, with an
understanding that current commercially successful fiction
includes a time-line, ffh faces major difficulties if it
tries to be the organizational model of choice for current
mainstream fiction writers. Pnh offers certain advantages
to the fiction writer (adds more arrows to the author's
quiver as it were) but it is not a replacement for the
current organizational model which is, in essence, a one-way
progression forward along a time line.

Pnh obviously offers more advantages to non-fiction
writers and the closer their work gets to encyclopedia-like
entries the closer pnh becomes ffh.

Copyright Paul F. Peacock 1993
This work may be reproduced in
any medium subject only to the
condition it is reproduced in its
entirety EXACTLY as written.

From Grist On-Line #1, October, 1993.
© copyright 1993 Paul F. Peacock