Insiders on the Electronic Revolution in Books Before it Happened

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This provides a look at what well-known authors and publishing industry professionals were saying about the electronic revolution and the future of books before the arrival of cheap ebook reading devices. Many of these comments are prescient because they came years before ebooks become widely accepted by consumers. For reference, these comments were gathered in August 2000 - well before the current ebook readers and standards were available.

What will the publishing industry be like in 10 years -- how will it be different than it is today?

"I've stopped predicting this kind of thing. There are so many variables -- not the least of which is whether anyone will be able to mass market an electronic reading device -- that it makes little sense to do so. There will always be a huge audience for reading material and I think most of that material will continue to be provided by the larger publishing houses. Beyond that, however, I'm not guessing."
-- Lou Aronica, former publisher of Avon Books.

How do you feel about ebooks? Do you think they will ultimately replace regular books?

"Ebooks will probably replace paperbacks in the next ten years. Hardcovers and art editions will likely prosper a while longer.
-- Greg Bear, bestselling science fiction author of Darwin's Radio.

How will the Internet change the comics industry?

"Honest to God, I don't know, but most of the people who claim to know don't know either. You know, when motion pictures first started happening, there were those who said you had to work only in long shots because your public would feel cheated by seeing less than all of the actors. I think there will always be stuff on paper to be read by people who think the concept of reading is as interactive as you need to be. And it is, I guess, once you think about it. But we're (THORBY) selling downloadable comics in PDF format, which you can read and print up with Adobe Acrobat Reader, and we're talking about comics that offer interactive possibilities, including slapping your face if you are at all insulting to the protagonist, and we've worked on some full motion video concepts. I'm going to cop-out here: The Internet will change publishing comics and publishing other stuff in many interesting ways. I am firmly convinced of the possibilities. We must go forward, so that we do not go backward. This is a time of challenge and experimentation and innovation. If we can put a man of the moon, surely we can bring an exciting, nutritious, non-polluting, mentally challenging, ethnically inoffensive comic book to the Web! Yippee!
-- Mort Castle, author of Writing Horror.

In light of Stephen King's recent release of his novella online, would you ever consider publishing one of your short stories in an electronic-only format?

"I think it's a fascinating idea. Of course, I would have it go through my publisher, Simon and Schuster. Certainly electronic rights have become a more important part of any publishing contract. That is an issue that has to be looked at carefully by the author. It could happen in the future; I am definitely open to the idea."
--Mary Higgins Clark, bestselling mystery/suspense author of Before I Say Good-Bye.



In 10 years, will readers be reading your books on an electronic reader, or will they still be reading them in hardcover or paperback?

"There is something so comforting about a real book that you can hold in your hand. I don't think that books will go away. You know, when television was invented, they said no one would ever go to the movies again. But that certainly didn't happen. There is always a place for a new development, such as ebooks. But it doesn't necessarily mean that it will replace what came before.
--Mary Higgins Clark, bestselling mystery/suspense author of Before I Say Good-Bye

I'm going to ask you see into the future. It's 2020. How does the average person read a novel: the Web, books, a Palm Pilot-type device?

"Books, primarily. Although I can imagine a Palm Pilot-like device gaining popularity; it will require a paper-white screen, properly lit, with legible black type in high resolution. We're very close to achieving this. But the book is excellent technology, and will be around for a long, long time."
--Douglas Cooper, author of Amnesia and Delirium.

How did Delirium come to be serialized on the Web?

"For years I have been represented as a screenwriter by The William Morris Agency. When my agent's assistant switched over to the new media department, she insisted that her new boss sign me as well. Since I now had an agent for new media, it became necessary to conceive of a project: I proposed that I serialize my next novel on the Internet. William Morris arranged for me to meet a producer at Time Warner Electronic Publishing (Pathfinder); they showed me Mosaic, which was newly launched, and introduced me to the idea of the Web; and I convinced them to host Delirium."
--Douglas Cooper, author of Amnesia and Delirium.

The book industry is going through a lot of changes lately, with all the mergers and the electronic revolution. Do you think in, say, 10 years people will be reading your books on a hand-held electronic device such as an ebook or a Palm Pilot? Or will they still be buying them in print?

"When computers came out there was a lot of talk about the paperless office, and of course that hasn't happened. I'd say there are still going to be print books. But ebooks sound great to me. One of the things I learned at the bookstore is, no matter how good a book is, if the print's too small, readers won't buy it. With ebooks, we can all adjust the print to the size we want it. Students and researchers are going to be in heaven, because ebooks will eliminate carrying those huge books around."
-- Christina Dodd, New York Times bestselling romance author.

How has the publishing industry changed since you published your first book?

"I'm no expert on numbers, so this is subjective. Back in the late eighties, the fantasy genre was still expanding. Now it feels as if it's contracting. Media spinoffs and cookie cutter series have stolen a huge chunk of the market. I suspect that just as many new writers are coming on the scene, and old ones are being steadily fed to the sharks. There's a sense that the electronic revolution is about to change everything. University textbooks, for example, have now become customized desktop items. In another ten years, authors may create their books in multimedia. I'd enjoy doing my own dragons, I think."
-- Dave Duncan, fantasy/SF author of the popular "Seventh Swordsman" series and the The Gilded Chain.

It's the year 2020. Have books printed on paper gone away?

"Maybe. The generational thing, you know. It's possible that you may not need paper-based books anymore. It may be possible. But you're still going to need people to write the books. You're still going to need people who edit the books. You're still going to need the publishers of the book, the people who convey the book to the purveyors of the books. You still need a producer of the product."
-- Jeff Herman, New York literary agent and author of the writing aide, 2000-2001 Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents.

Are we still going to need traditional publishers? Because there's a group of companies that have come onto the Internet who are trying to bypass that entire system.

"They'll just become alternative publishers. If they don't generate good product, they won't make it. They haven't gotten very far yet, and they're not going to get very far unless they can generate competitive product. That's the bottom line. Books that are not professionally edited are not going to get too far. I don't see it as a threat to writers. It's only a threat to publishers who don't change their technology from being paper-based to being electronic-based. But so long as they stay on their toes and they go with the times so they can shift how they are delivering the product, it doesn't matter. You may have Simon & Schuster twenty years from now not publishing any paper-based product, but it will still be a publisher. Stephen King may not have any more new books being printed in paper, but he'll still be a writer. So I don't think it's a problem. The Internet has solved some of the distribution problem of self-published authors. If you self-publish a paper-bound book, how do you distribute it? That's difficult. The fun thing about the Internet is you can distribute it through the Web. But if nobody goes to your site or doesn't think that there is a reason to go to your site, then you're back where you started when you just printed your own paper-based book. The only reason people will go to your website is because they think there is something on your site that they want.
-- Jeff Herman, New York literary agent and author of the writing aide, 2000-2001 Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents.

How has the Internet affected the literary and arts worlds?

"It's created a rapid-response deployment of services and opportunities. It creates outlets for writers whose outlets are shrinking, because the same sort of glossy magazines generally publish the same 200 writers, the same 200 points of view and cater to the same 200 interests. Unfortunately, web publications put up lots of poorly done work and poorly edited work. The beauty of the Web is also its bane; every dummy now competes globally for everybody's time. Who knows where it will go next. As Cyril Connolly wrote, 'The civilization of one epoch becomes the manure of the next.'"
-- George Myers, Jr., Editor and Publisher of george jr.

How has the rise of the Internet affected the poetry world?

"More opportunity to publish. The work isn't improving, that I can see, but there are more products carrying more products. I think no poet should be allowed to publish unless she or he agrees, via a contract, to buy 10 books of poetry a year. The fact that there's more mediocre-to-bad work out there doesn't put me in a panic; I'd rather the choir be larger, and then let the soloists among them come forth."
-- George Myers, Jr., Editor and Publisher of george jr.

I'd like to talk about a new trend: self-publishing on the Internet, either in an electronic form or in a print form using print-on-demand technology. Some of the companies that offer e-publishing also offer editing services for the books; some do not. What is your opinion of this trend? Will people read unedited books?

"That's a tough question to answer. For people who are content to write books without editing (and some of them need a lot of editing), there's probably an audience out there that either doesn't care whether a book is edited or just doesn't notice the egregious errors. Who knows? But one valuable service that traditional print publishing companies provide (and "print" can be a somewhat pejorative term these days as far as technical people go) is editorial advice. When someone just jumps onto the Internet with a book that hasn't had any going over structurally, any line editing or anything like that, the chances of that book's making it are marginal. I think we're going to see a lot of very poor-quality books."
-- Patricia O'Conner, author of Words Fail Me.

How much do you use the Internet? How do you think it has affected the book publishing world?

"I'm just getting comfortable using the Internet. I love the immediacy of it. If I have a question, I can just go online, and find an expert. Don't really know yet how it will affect book publishing world. I myself don't think I'll see the day when I'll prefer sitting at a computer to read a book as opposed to propping myself up in bed or on a sofa to read."
-- Kathy Hogan Trocheck, author of the Callahan Garrity and Truman Kicklighter mystery series.

A hypothetical: it is now the year 2007. Do people still read newspapers? How do people get their news?

"Oh, I think people still read newspapers. I think that the technology hasn't reached the point that it can deliver content as conveniently and comfortably as in a newspaper. That doesn't mean that newspapers are identical to what they are today. I would imagine that 10 years from today large quantities of advertising -- especially classified advertising -- will have migrated to the Web. If you pick up your newspaper today and think about what it would look like with all the advertising -- all the agate -- left out you see that it would necessarily have to be different. It would probably be smaller, it would probably be organized in a different way and probably more expensive, but still a newspaper as we know it. I think that's going to be around for a long time. But I think that modem penetration will be very significant by that time, whether it's via Web TV or some very simple to operate computer -- maybe your toaster or showerhead or something like that. You can't say anything is too much. It might be in your tieclip. But there will clearly be all kinds of ways to deliver certain types of targeted information. So if what you're interested in is getting Dallas ball scores, it may well be that it's your showerhead that tells you who won last night. The likelihood of delivering deeper content that way is not very great, which is why I think newspapers will still be around and will be able to provide a lot of that stuff. But I think that technology will be such that you will be able to get content in all kinds of places that you can't even imagine right now in small pieces."
-- Howard Tyner, Editor of The Chicago Tribune.


"We believe that an established publishing house can make a bold leap and succeed in the wide-open space of the Internet. While our new venture will have its own staff and a specially tailored approach, we hope to bring our incredible roster of current authors, our rich backlist, and our own publishing acumen to this exciting new company. Plus, our impending new relationship as part of AOL-Time Warner can only add to our desire to redefine what it means to 'publish' a book."
-- Laurence J. Kirshbaum, Chairman/CEO of Time Warner Trade Publishing about iPublish.com

"The convergence of the Internet and new technological advances in computing and publishing make reading possible in ways that could not have been imagined just one generation ago. With eBook technologies, books can assume new roles and forms that will serve students, workers, scientists and many others in transforming ways. At the same time, these technologies also represent incredible opportunities for authors and publishers, who can now explore new methods and vehicles for disseminating their ideas."
-- Michael Crichton, bestselling author of Timeline.

`Traditional publishers are great at promoting things that fit into categories. God's Debris isn't like anything you'll find on the bookshelves. There's even some debate about whether it's fiction or non-fiction. With an ebook I don't have any of the constraints of working with a publisher. I can sell it at half the normal price and no one is making me promote it by flying to Bakersfield to shake hands with sweaty strangers.'' --Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, about his new ebook God's Debris

"We hope the AtRandom imprint will afford these and future authors new creative opportunities to write at greater length than magazine nonfiction and fiction editorial space permits and with more immediacy and flexibility than traditional bound book publishing manufacturing schedules usually allow. Moreover, AtRandom e-books can be updated and expanded at any time by their authors."
-- Jonathan Karp, Vice President and Senior Editor at the Random House Trade Group, about the launch of the ebook imprint, AtRandom

"My friends, we have a chance to become Big Publishing's worst nightmare. Not only are we going glueless, look Ma, no e-Book! No tiresome encryption! Want to print it and show it to a friend? Go ahead! There's only one catch: all this is on the honor system. Has to be. I'm counting on two things. The first is plain old honesty. "Take what you want and pay for it," as the old saying goes. The second is that you'll like the story enough to want to read more. If you do want more, you have to pay. Remember: Pay and the story rolls. Steal and the story folds. No stealing from the blind newsboy!"
-- Stephen King, about his self-published ebook, The Plant.

"Fans and writers of science fiction, fantasy and related genres were the first ones on the Internet, because they were the most receptive to new technologies and the first to explore the ramifications of the net on publishing, music, society and culture. This dates back to William Gibson's Neuromancer, which created the cyberspace genre, a form that precedes but predicts the Internet as we know it. The Internet has become the new electronic hearth, allowing readers, fans, and writers to communicate at a previously unimaginable level of intimacy. As with any relationship, there have been bumps along the road as all parties adjust to this new intimacy."
-- J. Michael Straczynski, writer and creator of the Emmy Award Winning T.V. series Babylon 5.

"With our 25 years of experience in protecting digitized products, we at Microsoft know that piracy is a perpetual challenge that will always require a multifaceted strategy. Piracy is not a question of 'if' but rather 'when.' No technology is immune to it. The key is having a comprehensive plan in place to counter it at every level and minimize the threat."
-- Dick Brass, vice president of Technology Development at Microsoft, about the threat of Ebook Piracy.

"Stephen King's decision to publish his new short story in electronic format is a concrete declaration that the eBook format has arrived. We see a time in the not too distant future when virtually every book in print will be available in both physical and electronic formats."
-- Steve Riggio, vice chairman of Barnes & Noble.com.

"I've always treasured the communication and feedback I've received from my readers: in fact, my journey on The Camino actually began when I received two anonymous letters urging me to make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. I'm very excited about using the web to connect with them instantly and without the usual buffers."
-- Shirley MacLaine about her book The Camino, which was published both in hardcover and as an ebook.

"``Just as copying manuscripts by hand became obsolete with the invention of movable type, we expect today's printed text and reference books will be made obsolete by electronic publishing and distribution. Any publisher or typesetter who doesn't adapt over the next few years is in danger of becoming extinct in the marketplace.''
-- Mark Gross, president of Data Conversion Laboratory (DCL).