The author argues that the Internet and the laser printer have fundamentally changed publishing. Just as Internet was pioneered in universities before becoming a mainstream business tool, the new publishing paradigms can be explored by academics and researchers. Australian academics should grasp the opportunity to regain control of their intellectual property and help establish an internationally competitive publishing industry in Australia. He talks about his own experience as an Internet-assisted author and as Director of Publishing for the Australian Computer Society. Examples are drawn from his book "Net Traveller", published online and on paper in 1999 and experience as the web master of the Australian Department of Defence. Recent experience in preparing the book Universal Service? - Telecommunications Policy In Australia and People with Disabilities, which is due for release in mid 2000 is discussed. Preparation of the Australian Computer Society's new international publication; the Journal of Research and Practice in Information Technology
- Electronic publishing
- Low volume and demand paper publishing
- Role of universities and professional bodies
- Questions from the Preview to the University of Canberra Senior Staff, 17 March
The Internet and the laser printer have fundamentally changed publishing. The Internet allows preparation of publications to take place online. The teams of people and equipment publishers previously brought together can instead be assembled ad-hoc online. The laser printer can replace the printing press for low and medium volume material. The Internet can replaced part of the marketing and distribution chain.
Just as Internet was pioneered in universities before becoming a mainstream business tool, the new publishing paradigms can be explored by academics and researchers. The Internet and the web were developed as research tools and only later became business tools. Universities are now carrying out some experiments with online publishing, such as the Australian Digital Theses Project. However, there appears to be a disconnect between those with a wish to publish and those with the technical knowledge to do it well.
Australian academics should grasp the opportunity to regain control of their intellectual property and help establish an internationally competitive publishing industry in Australia. The current academic publishing process makes no sense and serves neither the authors nor readers well. Academics essentially give away their intellectual property in paper and books to overseas publishers and then pay to read the material, suffering delays of months or years in the process.
When publishing involved a large investment in specialised people and equipment, there was an economic rationale to using an established publisher. Now much academic publishing consists of little more than taking the author's electronic typeset original, pasting in the publishers details and pressing the print button on the laser printer.
How publishing is done made little sense to me. But colleagues in the publishing business told me that I just didn't understand what was involved. So in 1998 I decided the best way to find out was to do it. The result was the book Net Traveller, published in 1999. It is available as a free web site, a PDF electronic book and as a laser printed paperback.
Even after I had produced a book using the Internet and laser printing, many of my publishing colleagues continue to avoid the obvious. They call this "vanity publishing" and say it won't work for real books. Perhaps they should read the book, which starts in 1994 and describes what might be done with a little know technology used by academics, called "the Internet". At the time I was criticised for suggesting that this technology may have practical application for commerce, government or defence.
Net Traveller, was intended as a prototype and I have donated the royalties for the first two editions to the charity Technical Aid to the Disabled. A second book is a more serious academic work and business activity. This is Universal Service? - Telecommunications Policy In Australia and People with Disabilities, by Michael J Bourk. This is an edited version of Michael's Master's thesis.
Last year I was elected to the honorary position of Director of Publishing for the Australian Computer Society (ACS). The ACS's new international publication; the Journal of Research and Practice in Information Technology was designed online, by members of the academic and industry community. The publication is initially being distributed on paper, continuing the 32 year tradition of the Australian Computer Journal, which it replaces. However, book reviews, indexes and abstracts are already online and I ope we can move the full articles into cyber-space by the end of the year.
The major challenge with electronic publishing is getting paid for it. A minor problem is the format to be used.
The electronic version of my book Net Traveller has been available for some weeks, but so far no one has bought a copy (apart from me testing the system. While the paperback version continues to sell, so far the e-book doesn't. This might be due to a lack of devices fro reading e-books in Australia, or perhaps readers are happy with the free web version.
There is an issue with what format to use for electronic books. IT develops rapidly, making formats obsolete. The Internet has accelerated this process, and made the formal standards process even less reliable.
The Web's HTML on its own is not sufficient for publishing. PDF looks good when printed out, but is a poor format for reading on screen. It is particularly poor for use by the blind and those with limited vision.
XML promises to enhance HTML with features to make it expressive enough for paper publishing, while maintaining compatibility with web browsers. An XML format should also be useable with hand-held "electronic book" readers as well. However, the complexity of the format may be beyond the capability of the average person.
It is yet to be seen of user-friendly software can be developed and an implementation agreed which can be widely deployed for publishing. Complex software, the commercial imperative to not use standards and the flexibility of XML may be too much.
There seems some undeserved mystique about publishing. To learn how to do it I read Cyndi Kaplan's "Publish for Profit" (Kaplan 1997). This is primarily aimed at self-publishing, which is known dismissively in the business as "vanity publishing".
What I soon realised was that IT has made self-publishing easier since this book was published in 1997. It is now possible to request an international book number and a catalogue entry by filling out web forms. The ISBN and the catalogue entry are free. The only catch is that both are still sent back by old fashioned fax, not e-mail.
According to conventional thinking, the largest cost of self publishing was the printing of a reasonable print run of books (several thousand). However, I had been using high quality laser printers for years for short documents, so why not for a book?
In theory a book should be edited by a professional editor. In practice grammar checking software works well (but I didn't use one for this document). Indexing software also works well (simply marking words in the text to prepare the index for the back of the book, stopping when there are enough pages of index to look credible).
The early photographs I used (pre 1996) were scanned from printed originals and not up to usual publishing standards. Later photographs were taken with a digital camera. The photos were optimised for the (fast downloading from small files (under 100 kbytes) but are acceptable for monochrome laser printing.
The approach I have used is to first prepare a draft as web pages (one per chapter). The web site is converted to a typeset manuscript for the laser printer using free-ware software (Torrington 1995, Vanness 1998, Wicks 1998). As well as being free, this text based, batch mode software proved more effective for typesetting a large document, than an interactive, graphical user interface program.
Just as Internet was pioneered in universities before becoming a mainstream business tool, the new publishing paradigms can be explored by academics and researchers. Now academics essentially give away their intellectual property in paper and books to overseas publishers and then pay to read the material, suffering delays of months or years in the process.
The issue of copyright currently occupies much attention in Universities. Content owners are justifiably worried about loss of income from unauthorised online copying. However, intellectual property rights are not fundamental laws of nature, they are social conventions which adapt to suit current social conditions and the available technology. Publishers will naturally try to change to a "pay per view" model for books and journals. Rather than fight this at the end of the production process, universities should act at the start and say: "we OWN the content, we will decide what is done with it".
While the idea of universities dictating the direction for copyright may seem far fetched, it should be remembered that today's hottest business trend, the Internet, was developed as research tool. Some of the concepts behind the Internet seemed bizarre until a year ago (some still seem bizarre). The rewards for experiments in copyright could be as spectacular as that from .COM companies, which some universities have shared in.
The Australian Digital Theses Project, which some Australian universities are participating in shows some promise. However, there appears to be a lack of investment in getting the project to work. We need to get out IT researchers to participate in the project and produce tools to do the job well. There are valid research projects to be carried out which would aid the academic community and could have large commercial spin-offs.
This is the point which the preparation of the presentation had reached when given to University of Canberra, 17 March. Below are some questions which arose from the presentation. These may be worked into the text of a subsequent draft, but are show here as an example of how electronic documents can evolve:
- Don't you need to use a large established publisher for academic recognition?
In theory academic recognition should come from the quality of the work and the recognition by peers, not by how large or profitable the publisher of the material is. In practice there is a tendency for such a link. However, this can be fought against.
While an Australian university or professional society couldn't hope to compete against the largest international, established academic publishers, they could work on a modest scale. Local publishers can use the Internet to reach a global audience and provide recognition for work which is academically valid but wouldn't make its way into the established journals and book publishers.
To achieve academic recognition, universities ca do what major publisher do: enlist the assistance of professional societies and respected academic bodies. International publishers are currently engaged in buying up academic publications and signing exclusive deals with societies. One may suspect they are doing this on the cheap, before the academics realise they are selling off their most valuable asset: the respect of their peers and the general public.
- How can printing a few copies be as profitable as a major publisher?
Academics most provide their content free to major publishers (or in the case of conference proceedings may actually pay the publisher for the privilege of being published). Following the model of .COM companies, academics could be offered a share of future profits in demand and online publishing, in return for providing their intellectual capital up-front.
Several business models are possible for publishing:
- Universal Service? uses an online version of the publication given away free to market the printed edition. This model is profitable with about four copies sold.
- Net Traveller used corporate sponsorship to pay for the initial production and was profitable before any copies were sold.
- Your web site and book have a very simple graphical design. Isn't something more needed to market books, particularly to young people?
Net Traveller is not designed to appeal to young people, but to senior decision makers in public and private organisations. These people are nervous about what the net might be doing to their organisations and their own positions in those organisations. They are probably not net-literate and a traditional book format is intended to make them more comfortable.
When the formats for electronic books are more established, it should be possible to apply a style (type-style, size layout and graphic elements) to the words and images of a work. The author would select a style template and then fill it with words and pictures. As with word processing templates, some styles would be available free, others would be supplied by publishers as their "house style".
An author could have the style of their book specially designed by a layout professional, but the cost could only be justified for a few mass-market commercial works. The average work would make do with a shared style. This should work particularly well with books in a series, such as adamic monographs on a particular topic.
For Net Traveller I used LaTex typesetting package. This is free and was designed for academic publishing. The default style produces a conservative bookish result, which suited the intended audience. However, this package is programmable and has potential for wider use.
Need for Electronic Document Designers:
The design of Net Traveller looks boring, even crude to a graphic artist or designer of conventional publications. This is partly due to my lack of skill in design but mostly due to different priorities. As an IT professional, I am trained to produce systems which are portable to different hardware, efficient in the use of networks and useable by the maximum number of people.
There is a major problem in the use of "analogue" graphic designers and document layout professionals for e-publications. Training for graphic designers emphasises the highest quality result for a single use on a particular display device. However, the publisher has little control over the device their electronic document is displayed on. The result frequently is a poor quality or completely unreadable document. The use of traditional graphic design techniques is already creating maintenance problems and potential legal liability with web sites. Unless practices are changed, it will increase the cost of production of e-books, create a maintenance nightmare and still not work well with a diverse range of hand held book readers.
Poorly trained web designers are limiting the distribution of their clients documents and risking legal action. An extreme example is organisations which have web pages consisting of one large graphic in a proprietary format, with no separate text. These will only display correctly on a high end PC running a particular brand of software and on a high speed connection. This limits the audience for the material. As these web pages can not (or not easily) be read by the blind, the publisher risks legal action under anti-discrimination legislation. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is conducting an inquiry into the accessibility of electronic commerce. As the pages cannot display in a reasonable time on a slow country phone line, there is also the risk a political backlash by the rural lobby.
Increasing the size of a graphic-based web page will produce a large blurry web page, which will not fit on the screen and is difficult top read. In contrast, the readers of the web version of Net Traveller can increase the text and image size if they have limited vision. The larger text will wrap to fit the screen size and the images will display in more detail (as they are stored at a higher resolution than normally needed). The blind can use a talking terminal to read out the text of the document and the captions on the photos.
The PD version of Net Traveller uses the same image files as the web version. These are in colour and are not optimised for the laser printing press used. As a result the print quality might be slightly inferior to those a professional graphic designer could design, but can produce an adequate result on a great range of devices, in colour or monochrome, printed or screen based.
Young People May not Read Books: The idea of
designing printed books (or their electronic
equivalent) for the young may no longer be feasible.
Books look very dull when compared to a video game. The
devices now being trialed, which simulate a printed
book may not appeal to young people. They are more
likely to be attracted to books which look like games
and are supplied via the CD-ROM or Internet connection
of their games consoles.
- Why bother with printed books. Won't hand held electronic book devices replace them?
New technologies commonly coexist with old, at least for some time. It is unlikely that electronic book readers will quickly displace all books. It is not clear if such devices can be made with good enough screens at a reasonable price to replace books, or that people will buy them. Even if such devices prove popular, the content for them will still need to produced in a portable format for the different sizes and styles of devices and for the web. With little extra effort, this content can also be rendered as a traditional printed book.
It should be remembered that new technology does not inevitably work. An example is the Iridium satellite phone network, which failed to be profitable. Satellites costing billions of dollars are to be destroyed by plunging them into the atmosphere.
- Proposals for joint university projects in e-publishing in Australia have not been successful. What ca we do?
- Universities can work individually, in small groups and with professional bodies on initiatives. They can enlist the assistance of the IT experts in the institutions. They can use the excess capacity of the laser printing presses they already have in their printing units. They can contribute to joint efforts on larger efforts, in including standards, but not wait for such work to be complete before acting individually. They can offer publication services to their own staff and to those of lesser institutions, who would otherwise remain unpublished. They can offer the authors a modest financial incentive, in the form of royalties, as well as the opportunity to be published.
Bourk, M. (2000) Universal Service? - Telecommunications Policy In Australia and People with Disabilities (draft)
Worthington, T. (1999) Net Traveller - Exploring the Networked Nation, 1999, Edition 2
About the author
Tom Worthington is a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology at the Australian National University. He is an electronic business consultant, author and information technology professional, with 17 years experience in information technology, including nine years on high level IT policy and five in Internet applications. He was the first Web Master for the Australian Department of Defence. In 1999 he was elected a Fellow of the Australian Computer Society for his contribution to the development of public Internet policy.
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