Blazing a New Trail

by Warren Adler
The Internet Writing Journal, July 2002
Over the past several months, I have received numerous requests from readers of our E-sheets, as well as from other interested parties in and out of the publishing world, to provide some assessment of our progress. After all, we are blazing a trail into the wilds of new technology as it relates to books, and people want to know if we are making successful headway. Well, here it is.

It's been more than a year since I plunged with both feet (and wallet) into this great adventure of using technology to create greater accessibility and awareness of my novels and to support the future of my new works.

The first major step of this process entailed the reacquisition of nearly all of my publishing and subsidiary rights in North America and in the thirty foreign languages in which my books have been translated and published. The next (big) step was to take all this varied material and digitize it to make it computer ready for action.

As a result of this effort by our publishing company, Stonehouse Press, my novels are once again available for purchase in the English language in every conceivable format, through ebook downloads and print-on-demand technology in trade paperback and hardcover everywhere in the world where books are sold.

My books can be purchased through Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Powell's, Borders, BooksAMillion, Fictionwise, and through many other online sites, and can be ordered from brick and mortar bookstores everywhere. Our next thrust will be to link with sites and stores in other countries to provide them with our previously translated works. We will begin with French, German, Spanish and Portuguese languages, then follow up with our Asian translations.

Before this enterprise with Stonehouse, many of my books were out-of-print and could only be found rummaging around The Strand or at your favorite used bookstore. Now they are once again selling thousands of copies a year. Not bad. In addition, the list of places to find our books and ebooks keeps getting bigger. Stonehouse ebooks are now being sold on MobiPocket.com and soon on Galaxy Library. Print-on-demand versions are becoming available through Barnes and Noble and as part of a major new initiative by R.R. Bowker's "Books in Print." Bowker, the leading provider of bibliographic information in North America, has partnered with Booksurge to make available Booksurge's innovative on-demand book printing service to publishers of all sizes, and Stonehouse is right there at the forefront of this exciting new development.

No other author with my output -- 25 novels published by major publishers worldwide and spanning three decades -- has ever done this before. Part of the reason for this is probably the substantial start-up costs, though they are getting smaller and more manageable everyday. Part of it undoubtedly is also having the time, energy, foresight, and entrepreneurial ambition to endeavor to preserve and prolong the value of your work. The work of the author has changed. The writing is the first part of the job, and this becomes the second part.

But for an author, what other choice is there? Why aren't they all doing this? The normal shelf life of an author of novels is miniscule. Indeed, most authors whose time of popularity has passed celebrate their former successes with glass-enclosed household shrines of their now out-of-print books or with tattered editions on library shelves, most of which will be headed to recycling bins, if they haven't already.

Out-of-print, by the way, is merely the measure of a book's salability at a moment in time. It is a snapshot. A publisher's decision to remove a book from its backlist is a business decision based on storage limitations, and, of course, the absence of sufficient sales and a lack of appetite for promotion. The worth of the book as an enduring object of interest or quality does not enter into the equation. The fact is that only posterity, in its mysterious wisdom, can ever make that judgment.

While we are now selling books at a steady pace and have refined a proprietary tracking program to assess results title by title, we are just beginning the promotional effort to add heft to our awareness level. We are also embarking on a major effort to restock the public library shelves with hardback copies of my work and to begin to populate the libraries with ebooks as well.

Several companies are taking aim at allowing library patrons to not only read ebooks online at the library, but to check them out and take them home like traditional books to be read on a home computer or handheld device. Two major companies, Adobe Systems and Baker & Taylor, are just now beginning to Beta test and roll out new technology systems that promise to do just this, and the books from Stonehouse will have a major presence on both.

Under the able supervision of our company President, Ethan Goldman, we are hopeful that Stonehouse Press will become the matrix for authors throughout the world seeking to control their publishing destiny. As the creation of our elaborate and ever-expanding infrastructure continues, we will soon begin experimenting with other distribution programs for newly published works, and perhaps begin to work with other prominent writers in order to give them the benefit of our acquired knowledge in 21st century publishing options.

What has become increasingly apparent is that our venture has opened a tiny window of hope to those authors who look toward a sales future that will benefit themselves and their progeny unhampered by a publisher's whims and caprices. Their books, like mine, will never go out of print again. The value of author's "estates" will vastly increase as their books continue to sell well into the future.

Admittedly, the efficacy of the various awareness factors such as advertising, publicity and promotion have not yet been fully developed. It is one thing to be posted somewhere in a vast data bank and quite another to break out from the pack. Elements of economics, luck, and imagination will have to come into play. There will be no magic bullet, but hard slogging lies ahead.

Weathering the bumps, knocks and detours along this road, especially for a pioneer, will not be easy. Electronic books, for example, have received some horrendous press this year, most of it inaccurate, since the demand for ebooks rolls merrily along in tandem with the creation of more user-friendly devices.

On the other hand, the other arm of the publishing technology revolution -- print-on-demand -- is developing economic muscle at an accelerating pace. Print-on-demand literally means creating each book one at a time. For several years, POD had been negatively associated with "vanity" publishing -- in other words, if your book wasn't good enough for a real publishing company, why, you could pay to publish it yourself! (The insinuation being that only your mother and your closest friends would ever bother to read it). However, as the increasingly low margins and tricky economics of the book business are becoming more apparent in the new economy, even major publishers are beginning to understand the benefits of and to utilize print-on-demand technology: out of print books previously impossible to find except in dust bins and second-hand book stores can now easily be kept active, printed and shipped; niche books that might only sell in the hundreds or low thousands can be profitable; and there is less guess work regarding ordering and returning large numbers of books. All of Stonehouse's books are currently available as print-on-demand and can be ordered online from any book retailer.

The fact is that the publishing business is in the midst of a revolution. No one knows quite how it will evolve, including -- and perhaps especially -- the big publishers. But then, their interest is parochial, dealing with their own evolution and survival. The authors have their own agenda, and they will eventually recognize that it does not always coincide with the interests of the major publishers.

At some point, in my opinion, there will be a rapprochement of sorts between authors and publishers that will change the face of the publishing industry as it exists today. At this juncture, distribution is still king and the big publishers and chain booksellers continue to be the most powerful force in the industry. But their roles are continuously being reassessed.

While it is true that other authors have not, as yet, jumped on the bandwagon, I continue to believe that the technology for providing content, meaning all forms of communicating via the printed word, fiction, non-fiction, poetry and articles, will one day be an author's paradise, both in economic terms and in the essential creator's dream of personal fulfillment.

In the end, content, as always, will rule. Who provides this content and how it will be disseminated is the central question that will determine our future.

Photo of Warren Adler **Warren Adler is an internationally bestselling author and playwright. His novels have been translated into more than two dozen languages and two have become major motion pictures, the classic The War of the Roses starring Michael Douglas and Random Hearts starring Harrison Ford. His latest books are Mourning Glory (Kensington) and Cult (Stonehouse Press). To learn more about Warren Adler, you may visit his website at: warrenadler.com. You may read an interview with Warren Adler here.

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