SINCE December 1987, when I started my first enterprise to distribute books via computer media, I've been working to make the buying of paperless bookstm as close to the buying of printed books as possible. Instead of binding printed pages with stitching and glue, text files would be bound with compression archiving. But, whether bound stitched or zipped, the reader would buy a book then read it, just like with a printed book from a bookstore.
BUT after seeing our sales figures for paperless bookstm topping off in the hundreds and comparing these numbers to the thousands of copies downloaded in two months of my new book The Frame of the Century?, it became clear to me that while it's now possible to achieve web distribution that's as good as the distribution of a successful book through bookstores, you had to give the books away to the reader for free. Unfortunately, while this is wonderful for the reader, it's not so great for the writer, who needs to pay rent and buy groceries like everybody else. Come to think of it, it's not so great for the reader either, because writers who can't support themselves from their writing stop writing the books the readers like.
About two months ago, I had a new idea.
Since we can get great book distribution by allowing web surfers to download a book but only if they can download it for free, I asked myself, why not do what magazines and broadcasters do: give the entertainment away for free -- and make the money for the producer and distributor by selling advertising?
My new short-story collection, Nasty, Brutish, And Short Stories and The Frame of the Century?, are my first two experimental entries into this new marketing plan. If I can find sponsors willing to pay for advertising in paperless books,tm instead of making their advertising buys in radio, TV, and print ads, then we just may have found a way to open up a new writing market and a new advertising medium at the same time -- a synergistic new marketplace.
THIS new marketplace will be good for freedom of the press. I have been sorely bothered by the idea that while a few conglomerates now control the publishing industry, a bunch of fine writers I know can't make a living writing any more.
This is unacceptable for a society which has any plans for creating a decent future for its children -- a future in which novelists and short-story writers aren't commercially self-supporting, the way composers of symphonies, sonatas, and concertos have become. I don't want to see brilliant novelists ending up supporting their families writing novelizations of Tasters Choice commercials -- or worse, driving trucks.
The lively arts die when live artists can't support themselves doing it.
This is also a great new opportunity for advertisers.
UNTIL now, literature published in books has been off-limits for any sort of advertising. There has just been no opportunity for a business or institution to place its ads into a fiction or nonfiction general-interest trade book, no matter how relevant an ad might be to the reader's interest. Yet, advertisements can appear in the program books for a symphony concert or a Broadway show, and Texaco can sponsor live radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera and drama on the Bravo channel..
RIGHT now, we are on the cutting edge of a publishing revolution as significant as the invention of moveable type. Handheld computers such as the Newton Messagepad and the Toshiba Libretto are making it just as comfortable to read -- on an airplane, or in bed, or on the beach -- the paperless booktm that you downloaded from the web for free, as it is to read the hardcover book you bought for $20 at a bookstore.
Yes, some people will always like printed books. I'm one of them. But what if the book you want to read just isn't one you can have shipped to you by Amazon.Com or found at your nearest Barnes and Noble -- simply because the book publishers can't afford to keep it on the shelf -- but you can download it right off the World Wide Web -- because we don't need any stinking shelves?
Think, maybe, there might be some readers out there who will go for this? I sure do.
Here's how Pulpless.Comtm is going to make this work.
Pulpless.Comtm is in negotiations with top well-known book authors, some of them whose books have repeatedly appeared on bestsellers' lists, who have expressed interest in making their books available for download on the World Wide Web, if the revenue they get out of it can approach that of magazine publication or a traditional book sale.
These are books that the publishing industry considers insufficiently commercial because they aren't tie-ins to celebrities, movies, comics, TV shows, or even videogames. In other words, they're real books. Some of these books are brand-new and previously unpublished, in the author's unsold inventory. Others were previously published to great success and are now simply out of print due to the high-demand for novelty in the retail book business. Some of these authors are even interested in writing new books in their bestselling series specifically for web publication.
If you have a product you think would be suitable for advertising inside a real book to be downloaded free from the World Wide Web -- or, if you have a business or institution which would simply like to support writers in their pursuit of literary excellence -- email me at email@example.com or get in touch with us at the phone, fax, or mail addresses at the end of this file.
Pulpless.Comtm will negotiate World Display Rights with the author or the author's agent for free World Wide Web release of a book (or a series of books). The book's sponsor will purchase a contract for placement of advertisements inside the complete book to be downloaded in a format such as Adobe Acrobat or HTML, as well as click-through banners for the on-line posting of the book's chapters for web surfers. Pulpless.Comtm will prepare the book for publication on the web. The advertiser will be charged for each download of the book or banner click-through on the pages for that book. The author will share in this advertising revenue with Pulpless.Comtm.
As I said in my introduction to Nasty, Brutish, and Short Stories, forget about making the world safe for democracy. If anything is nasty, brutish, and short-lived, those sorts of plans usually are. But with any luck at all, we may just make the world safe for literacy.
Texaco, Microsoft, Toshiba, and Philips Magnavox -- are you listening?
--J.N.S., August 8, 1997