Final Staff

Editor-in-Chief:
Stacey Janssen

Managing Editor:
Dave Noonan

Editors

  • Mishell Baker
  • Bluejack
  • Amy Goldschlager
  • Emily Lupton
  • R. K. MacPherson
  • Scott James Magner
  • Robin Shantz

Copy Editors

  • Sarah L. Edwards
  • Yoon Ha Lee
  • Sherry D. Ramsey
  • Rena Saimoto
  • Paula Stiles

Editors-at-Large

  • Marti McKenna
  • Bridget McKenna

Publicity

  • Geb Brown

Publisher: Bluejack

April/May, 2006 : Editorial:

On Digital Publishing

Don't you find it fascinating that the lowest-bandwidth media there is—the written word—is the last to find its true expression in digital distribution? We've been trading music files since the last century, and people are ripping and trading DVDs as well...but books? Well, there's just not much call for eBooks yet.

No matter that you can fit the entire archive of Project Gutenberg on your hard drive, and that it takes a couple of seconds to download a book on most contemporary Internet connections. The experience of reading the eBook just ain't great.

But things are changing.

More people are reading eBooks every week. Although the numbers are still small, they are steadily increasing, and this is without the "killer app" for reading digital text. The simple fact of the matter is that people are more accustomed to the generally poor experience of reading on surfaces like computer monitors and palm pilots than they used to be, and web pages are getting the job done. Poorly, from the perspective of most fiction readers who like to curl up with a good book, but it works. It works for news publishers, and for bloggers, and for a universe of academic publishers; pretty soon it's going to work for bestsellers, too.

The technology is close. Of course, it's been close for years now...it's just too expensive. I remember when the first Franklin Digital Books came out in the mid-90's: small, low-contrast grey-and-black lcd screens were used for some special-purpose non-fiction books, like language dictionaries and reference books. These days digital paper and electronic ink are delivering resolution and contrast as good as traditional paper—in direct sunlight. Early products with these technologies were too expensive and hampered by other design flaws. But most observers think that really cool digital books are going to take off this year, or possibly next.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is better. Thanks to years of music industry screw-ups, and almost as many years of Big Hollywood Studio stupidity, the field of digital rights management has been a slow-moving beast burdened by bad ideas, unrealistic expectations, and a general hostility between manufacturer and consumer. However, we're getting to the place where DRM doesn't need to be roadblock anymore. Enough smart people have done enough smart work that it's at least possible for good devices with user-friendly piracy deterrence to actually give people what they want—as the profusion of iPods attests.

We here at IROSF are tracking the eBook phenomenon with great interest, and not just because we are a digital publication ourselves.

Here's a little history. In 2002 I set up Quintamid LLC to be a company devoted to putting together technologies at the service of the genre community—i.e., services for authors, for publishers, and for readers in the science fiction and fantasy genres. One important aspect of that is digital publishing, and IROSF was our first (and to date, only) experiment in this line. The original founders of IROSF liked the idea of the New York Review of Science Fiction but wanted something more accessible to a wider audience. Sometimes people think of us as the "International" Review of Science Fiction, rather than the "Internet" ROSF, and that's just fine with us.

In previous columns, I have sketched out some of the ways we expect IROSF to grow this year. Yes, eBook formats will be part of that growth.

But IROSF is just the beginning of things. Quintamid is teaming up with Scorpius Digital, a Seattle-based publisher of eBooks known not only for their book catalog, but also as publisher of Aeon Speculative Fiction, probably the finest magazine publishing exclusively in eBook formats.

The upside to digital publishing is that the cost of putting together a publication is much, much lower than traditional books which have costs attached to both materials and manufacturing, and then the whole cost of distribution. In theory, this should mean that in digital publishing more money can go to authors, and more money to publishers, with the reader still getting a great product at a (much) lower price.

The downside is that any teenager with Microsoft Word and a little spare time can suddenly go into "publishing."

What makes Scorpius different is the commitment to hand-crafted books that are as well-written, well-edited, well-designed, and well-manufactured as any traditional medium, as good as or (preferably) better than the products of the big New York houses. This very much fits into the philosophy of Quintamid, and now, together, we are watching for the release of these reading surfaces that work as well as paper with the hope that there will be well-engineered devices to go with them.

Don't think that this means our focus will shift away from IROSF. IROSF was inspired by a backwater dead-tree publication, but the ambitions here are no less than they were. Indeed, as we move into the digital age, as print becomes a part of the digital world, we expect IROSF to be at the heart of new developments.


Copyright © 2006, Bluejack. All Rights Reserved.

About Bluejack

Bluejack resides in Seattle. In addition to publishing the Internet Review of Science Fiction, he herds cats for an Internet startup, designs and develops distributed software applications, and dabbles in a broad range of less useful endeavors.

COMMENTS!

Apr 24, 17:03 by IROSF
Thread for the discussion of the current issue in general, or the state of digital publishing in specific.

The editorial is here.
Apr 25, 03:48 by A.R. Yngve
Comments:

The problem with introducing a new media format USED to be not too many titles (movies, books, games, thingamajigs), but too few. At least nobody complains that "there are too many e-books", so it's a promising beginning...

The problem here is rather: How do I find the good titles? Or, to be super-specific: How do I find the books that I like?

So how will people find the e-books they want to read?
1. Word of mouth
2. Advertising
3. Book reviews
4. Websurfing

There are not that many reviewers of e-books (yet). And they'll have to be pretty strict unless they're going to be drowned in junk.

Now, I wish there was a computer program that could weed out bad books or locate the ones I like, but there ain't no such thing.

Besides, if you think there are many digital titles NOW, just wait until it starts to diversify: e-books made for the elderly, interactive children's books, every possible niche market including colorblind Eskimos with psoriasis...

Anyone who thinks of writing/publishing for the e-book market should try and find and exploit a niche market -- or several ones. If e-book titles are expected to sell in small numbers, it pays to have as many titles as possible, and the more obscure the better. (See "The Long Tail" on Wikipedia.)

And it just so happens that science-fiction and fantasy ARE niche markets. They've always been, always will be. They are ideally suited for e-publishing.

Now, what e-publishing REALLY needs is the same thing paper publishing always needed: good editors.

So my question is: are more editors seeing the opportunity? The demand for editors' services is going to skyrocket in the near future (or until they can be replaced by software ;-)).

-A.R.Yngve
Homepage
Apr 25, 09:12 by Bluejack
I hear you Yngve. Actually, print needs good editors too... the big houses have all been doing less and less real editing over the years... it slows down the production process and adds cost to the balance sheet. Proofread it and print it.

But that notion of "how to find the good stuff" is a fascinating problem, and one that I am sure someone will start solving soon. I have my own ideas about it, but it would be a rather big project to initiate, so I'm hoping someone like Amazon will get on the ball and give us a combination of community filtering, personalization, and professional reviewing that surfaces the good stuff.

Once that happens, the good editors can do their work and know that there's going to be a payoff.
Apr 26, 05:40 by susie hawes
As an author of e books, I find that there are several places to look.

SFReader.com reviews some e books

Lazette Gifford is running a newsstand for this sort of thing: Internet Newstand http://www.sff.net/estand/

You can read excerpts at http://www.sffworld.com/

or check out the press releases at http://www.specficworld.com/

Your best bet is to look for a solid publisher, like Double Dragon, Twilight Times or my own publisher, Renaissance. They provide editing before they release a book and insist on quality manuscripts. Since they pay in royalites, it serves as an incentive to the author to send in their strongest work, and a good Electronic publisher is as selective as any other publisher. Once you find a quality publisher, you could check their catalog. You're more likely to get a discount from a publisher, and their new releases are often pre-listed there.

I need to sit down and submit my book to reviewers, then fire off a book excerpt to Lyzette this week. For now, I have one up at fictionwise. That's a nice bonus: if the publisher is confident of the story, they should include an excerpt on the sales page at fictionwise.

As far as book reviews, it's trickier, since so many e book reviewers will give unedited work a read. The trick, I'm finding, is to go to the genre magazines and ezines. The Sword review and Bewildering Stories have published e book reviews. Fanzines are another good place to look.

Also check with other authors with a record of solid work, and see if they have recommended the book.

Many times you can find recommendations on a message board, either a genre messageboard, like SFReader.com or Shocklines, or on an author's message board.
Apr 28, 03:21 by Daniel M. Kimmel
Here's a thought to boost readership. Send your monthly announcement of the new issue and its contents to the Usenet group rec.arts.sf.announce. That will let a whole new audience know about IROSF with a reminder with each new issue.
Apr 28, 11:31 by Bluejack
Probably a good idea. I haven't done a lot of that kind of "marketing" because I don't want to spam people ... or be thought of as spamming or otherwise intrusively marketing. But it's been a while since I've done a round.

Apr 28, 16:05 by Daniel M. Kimmel
rec.arts.sf.announce is, as it says, an announcement group. There's no discussion there. It's more like posting notices. I thought of it since Emerald City, a well known fanzine, uses it to announce their new issues and contents. It would be very much on topic.
Apr 29, 01:18 by Ryan Oakley
Upon the arrival of ebooks, I think critics will provide the filter that publishers now do. It will be an organic process but when it happens it will happen fast.

"The downside is that any teenager with Microsoft Word and a little spare time can suddenly go into "publishing.""

I'm not sure that really is a downside. It just means more information.
Apr 29, 07:41 by Gregory Feeley
Don't trust "the critics" to be the gatekeepers for self-published ebooks. Critics don't want to wade through a huge number of amateurish works any more than anyone else, so established critics won't touch them.

In that absence, most ebooks will quickly garner rave reviews from the authors' friends. People will learn to mistrust them, and everything will remain unchanged.
Apr 29, 16:36 by Dennis McCunney
Aside from the other issues affecting the use of ebooks, consider format.

Project Gutenberg does splendid work, but until recently, offerings were plain ASCII text only. It could be read on just about anything, but you gave up fonts, text attributes, and illustrations.

Various electronic publishers have attempted to change this. I read ebooks on a PalmOS PDA. Peanut Press (later Palm Digital Media, and now eReader.com) came up with Palm Markup Language, and a reader now known as eReader that displayed PML formatted texts. MobiPocket has something similar, as well as TomeRaider, which handles very large files. Adobe PDFs are also used, but you have problems if the device you are reading on isn't a PC. (Adobe's own reader for PalmOS leaves a lot to be desired. I use Henk Jonas' PalmPDF, an free, open source product based on the XPDF library for the purpose.)

The International Digital Publishing Forum (formerly the Open eBook Forum), is attempting to create an open ebook spec to address this, but I have yet to see any eBooks actually using it. The sample eBook they provide in thier format displays fine in Firefox on my PC, but crashes the browser on my PDA.

So depending upon what eBooks I want to read, I may have to maintain several different ebook readers, and remember which book is in which format

In my case, I sidestep the issue. I get content in HTML format, form Project Gutenberg and places like the Baen Free Library, and convert the HTML to Plucker format for reading on my PDA. I want content I can download once and read anywhere using any device, and HTML is closest to that goal.

With paper books, I don't have to worry about having the needed tools to be able to read the books. Publishers concentrate on competing for content, and don't also worry about winning converts to thier format.

Ebooks are out there, and use is growing. But publishers still have to overcome issues of format, pricing, and exactly what the reader will use to view them. there have been a couple of attempts at dedicated ebook readers, and Sony has a new one out, but we aren't there yet. I use a PDA because I want the device to do other things besides display electronic texts.

Nor do I expect paper books to go away. One book I recently finished I actually read in electronic form, though I have the hardcover trade edition. My PDA fits in a pocket, and currently holds about 2,400 books among other things. My paper library isn't as portable.
______
Dennis
May 4, 10:58 by Stephen Fritter
Amazon.Com has recently announced the purchase of Mobipocket. My biggest concern with Ebooks has been the possibility that in the future I might not be able to access Ebooks I have purchased in the past because of licensing and compatiblity issues. There is at least one book in my Fictionwise account that I can no longer download because I do not use the device for which it was registered. Fictionwise says this is a special case issue involving one former distributor but it is cause for concern. Hopefully the Amazon acquisition is a good sign that my books will be compatible with future devices - even non-PDA devices.

I don't think the importance of a good editor can be underestimated. Factual errors, grammatical errors, and authorial eccentricities can completely destroy the bond one makes with an otherwise quality book. Mostly Ebook author Darrell Bain, for instance, is a good editor away from being a terrific author.
May 5, 10:24 by Bluejack
Look for a consolidation in the ebook world on the "open ebook format" -- although it is not really "open" in the traditional open source sense of the term, and it the group developing it are not doing so in accordance with accepted practice for standards committees, the field so desperately needs something that will work ubiquitously that this format stands an excellent chance of finding common ground between PDF (Adobe is one of the main players in open ebook) and the lighter weight formats currently in use by various handheld manufacturers.

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