This is the World Wide Web edition of J. Neil Schulman's book Self Control Not Gun Control. It's posted for informational and entertainment purposes only and may not be crossposted to any other datafile base, conference, news group, email list, or website without written permission of the author. If you wish to purchase the hardcover edition, it's available for sale at this website, or at fine booksellers everywhere.
Copyright © 1995 by J. Neil Schulman. Rights to make copies and print-outs from these files are limited by the license agreement. All other rights reserved.

Power Tools

Virtual Hope

She lives in the Twilight Zone
a dimension not of sight and sound
we were told
but of mind.

She looks good in ASCii
and every word is a Turing Test.
Is she mind or machine and
Is she what she seems to be and
Did she tell the truth and
Was she woman born of flesh and

Is fate kind?

I ventured into this other dimension
to find her
but I become ASCii myself
and I am just a ghost to her as well.

Beyond the walls of these words
There is a real world
Where each of us is not someone's
but what we are.

All is in shadow
even more than usual

We are blind and deaf and insensate
yet we meet as sayers of words
and are words ever enough?

My God we don't even know our names!

It would be plunging through the depths
of atmosphere and pressure
yet, oddly,
light and sound and touch as well
were we to meet.

And what would we test then?

January 14, 1995

The New Literacies

From a "real-time" computer conference in the SoftServ RoundTable on GEnie, July 2, 1990. --JNS

I decided to bring up the subject of "new literacies" because it became apparent that we are entering an age when being able to read and write--what used to be called the Three R's--has a completely different emphasis than it used to and these differences impact mightily on what we are doing here tonight.

For example, once a book is in electronic text you don't have to be able to read in order to have access to the written material, since the computer can read it to you.

In fact, the ability to use a mouse on the computer might be more important in gaining access to information than being able to read the words in a book since if the computer has access to a large database, you might actually have access to more information by using the computer than using the books themselves.

Further, there are additional literacies which are becoming important, which aren't generally acknowledged as "literacy" yet.

The ability to use a computer is, of course, one. "Computer literacy" has already entered our lexicons. But the ability to understand and use a modem and communications software, and to navigate an online service might turn out in a few years to be the definition of "literacy."

Each new technology added to our repertoire is a new set of skills which may be decisive in gaining access to the information and entertainment which shape our lives.

And I don't think we can overestimate the importance of being able to use these new "access nodes" in becoming an educated person.

I submit that the old definition of literacy is outmoded.

Written language is a mnemonic for spoken language. Take a look at Israeli newspapers. In Hebrew, the printed language often leaves off all vowels entirely. You have to already know what the vowels of a word are without seeing them on the printed page. The printed words in the Israeli newspapers serve merely to remind the reader what the spoken words are; the words can't be sounded out from the printed language. Readers have to reach into their memory to remember what the words sound like, and reconstruct the language in their minds.

Therefore, since written language is merely a mnemonic for spoken language, I submit that the capacity for having an electronic system which can reproduce the recorded word and feed it to the ears is every bit as much "literacy" as being able to scan words on a page visually.

True, oral language is more direct. Written language has evolved a set of rules to compensate for the more limited ability to reproduce the sounds. Reading and writing are no longer the key to information access that they were in the pre-computer age.

Schools are using pre-technological standards to determine fitness while the kids who are playing computer games hidden behind their textbooks are learning more useful skills for their future than the teachers are shoving down their throats.

The kids who read comic books often become book readers, too.

I did.

Let me get even more outrageous. I submit that the ability to watch TV is probably more important today than the ability to read books.

I'm painting that claim with a wide brushstroke, but consider, for a moment, that a majority of us already use TV as our main medium for information and entertainment.

And if the production values are high, I think more information is conveyed by the TV medium than the text medium. It has a much higher "bandwidth," to use the current cant. Let's not judge the capacity of a medium by what it's used for.

But I think we have all read enough science fiction to anticipate the general direction we're heading. We are going to have far greater access to information provided by various electronic media. The ability to access these new media will determine who is educated, employable, and successful.

If we confine ourselves to the "literacies" of older media, we are missing the thrust of what "literacy" means at the bottom: the ability to access and interact with information.

Go to Next Chapter.

Return to Table of Contents.

The following article is excerpted from the book Publish Your Own Book for Under $50 by Victor Koman and J. Neil Schulman (Koman Publishing, 1991).

Paperless Books


Publishing: History versus Ideal

Publishing exists both as an historical development and as a theoretical ideal.

We need not deal here with much of the history: it is too richly documented elsewhere. Still, we can note that since it began in earnest with the invention of movable type by Johann Gutenberg over five centuries ago, everyone has assumed that publishing occurs when a typesetter sets a composed Work into type or onto plates, when a printer uses that type or plate to imprint ink onto sheets of paper, when a bindery binds those sheets of paper together into books or periodicals, and when a publisher markets multiple copies of those imprinted books or periodicals to stores, which in turn sell them to people interested in reading that composed Work.

As a theoretical game, publishing is far simpler: it is any efficient and desirable medium for a composed Work to be made available to those wishing access to it. This implies two finally-important players: the Author of the composed Work, and the Reader of it. All other players are Mediators between Author and Reader. Further, Author and Reader each has an idealizable goal of transmitting the Work from one to the other with as little mediation between them as possible.

The Author's Ideal is to create a Work that fulfills both some internal goal (such as self-expression) and some external goal (such as proselytizing or making money), to inform all potential Readers of its information or entertainment value, and to have it unceasingly available to all Readers who desire it.

The Reader's Ideal is to have as varied a choice of Works as possible for information and entertainment, to have elegant tests to determine which of those Works they desire (and filter out those which are not), and to have such Works available, as painlessly as possible, whenever and wherever desired.

This article will proceed on these assumptions as follows:

It will analyze the process, then show the failures--and note success where due--of the current Trade and Mass-Market Book Publishing Industry in serving these defined ideals of Authors and Readers. Then it will analyze and show how the emerging technological media of Computers and Data Communication can more-closely approach the ideals of both Authors and Readers.

Note that the new industry is not necessarily electronic book publishing. We are here proposing a new kind of publishing in which the very concept implied by the word "book" needs to be redefined, delimited, and sometimes discarded. One should never look upon the creation of any new industry as anything less than mightily formidable. In discussing publishing that has no final need for paper, ink, glue, or binding, this task must, at the start, seem daunting.

Authors write--publishers publish, critics critique, stores sell, libraries shelve, and readers read--books. When one begins by telling Authors and Readers that what they have been trading for the last five centuries are not really books but what has been recorded and transported inside books, then one encounters the sort of incredulity and stubbornness that manufacturers of Horseless Carriages received when what had been readily apparent to any moron for thousands of years was the primary importance not of the carriage but of the horse.

In the end, people decided that carriages pulled by horsepower rather than by horses worked better for getting around, but that horses would still have an honored place on the racetrack and at the riding academy.

So it will be, I expect, with "Paperless Books."

Bound books will still have their place in the hearts--and on the shelves--of those who appreciate their history, the beauty of the crafts used in making them, the almost sensual smells of paper and ink. For certain readers, books will remain delightful to look at, wonderful to hold. For certain authors, there will always be something approaching ecstasy in seeing their names on the title page of a book, their words shining off the semi-glossed sheets bound within.

Nevertheless the Paperless Book will come into its own as surely as did the Horseless Carriage, and for the same reasons. Automobiles were much better than horses at getting from one place to another. Given the commonality, and approaching universality, of computers and modems, software is simply much better than bound books at getting Works from Author to Reader.

Let us say a profound thank you to Herr Gutenberg for giving us economically practical books. Let us next give thanks to Caxton, Cerf, and Ballantine for giving us quality books, for their times, in the largest quantity and lowest price possible.

Then let us proceed to doing what Gutenberg, Caxton, Cerf, and Ballantine were properly doing for their generations: making the bridle path between Author and Reader as short, smooth, and straightforward as possible.

I. Book Publishing Today

Who has not heard the phrase, "You can't judge a book by its cover"? Yet, the obvious truth to anyone who gives even a cursory glance at the process by which books today are ordered, distributed, and vended, is that often the only way books are judged is by their covers.

What drives the process of publishing books today is not what readers wish to read or what authors wish to write, or even what editors wish to buy for publication.

For trade hardcovers and trade paperbacks, the driving force is, chiefly, what the large retail bookstore chains--Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, Barnes & Noble--are willing to order and display on their shelves. Almost as important a force is what chain retailers such as K-Mart and Bradlees are willing to order and display. Using the horse-racing analogy, the total orders from independent bookstores show, but rarely place or win, when it comes to creating display space for a book.

For mass-market paperbacks--besides those outlets--the driving force is what newspaper and magazine distributors are willing to order, warehouse, and send out with their trucks for their drivers to stack on wire racks in supermarkets, convenience stores, and airports.

The same basic assumption used for selling soft drinks, soap, and toilet paper drives both trade book and mass-market-paperback retailing: display space is valuable. Put a product up: if it sells fast, reorder; if it doesn't move, pull it off and ship it back.

Retailers consider book-purchasing largely an impulse "buy" based on generic use (the category: Romance, Biography, Science Fiction, or Self-Help), brand familiarity (the author's name), packaging (the cover illustration, promo copy, and quotes), and promotion (advertising and publicity).

Aside from price, the only difference between trade book and mass-market paperback publishing is that bookstores ship unsold trade books back to the publisher's or distributor's warehouse while unsold mass-market paperbacks--like unsold magazines--have their covers stripped off and sent back to the publisher for credit. Minus their covers, unsold mass-market paperback books are destroyed.

The necessity of product turnover is such a major element in book retailing that the shelf-life of 95% of published books should be measured in the half-lives of highly radioactive isotopes.

The shelf-life of a hardcover book averages six months before a bookstore removes unsold copies from shelves and ships them back to the warehouse, there to be marked down to or below unit cost and sent back to bookstores as "remainders." One year after publication, a reader will rarely be able to find anything but bestselling hardcovers in the chain retail outlets other than as a remainder unprofitable to either publisher or author.

The shelf-life of a paperback book averages six weeks before retailers remove unsold copies from racks, strip their covers for credit, and destroy the books. Eight months after publication--for all but bestsellers--a paperback won't be found anywhere but independent bookstores. Even a successful paperback isn't immune to a retail book outlet stripping covers for credit against new orders even of the same book. Thus are still-salable books regularly destroyed by retailers and distributors eager to improve their cash flow a few percentage points by putting off payment to publishers for another month.

The retailing requirements of books today dictate--up stream from retail outlets to distributors and publishers, from there up stream to the publishers' sales and marketing staff, up stream there to editorial staff, and up stream ultimately to authors wishing to be published--what can and will be written and published.

And, overwhelmingly, what severely limits what can and will be published are several basic rules of mass-marketing:

1) A product must be standardized at the lowest common denominator to sell at mass-market quantities.

2) Mass-marketing is selling many units of a few products, not few units of many products.

3) Since start-up costs for a new product are high, costs must be reduced by limiting advertising and letting the product's packaging sell it on the shelf.

4) Since introducing a new product is risky, risk must be reduced by making the new product as much as possible like the products already available, and selling them as "just as good."

5) Since moving a brand-name product around the store too much loses sales, it must be kept on the same shelf so the customer will know where to find it.

These basic rules of retailing are filters which determine what books are publishable today.

By rule one, a book must fit into a standard category or appeal to the lowest common denominator: thus the necessity that a publishable book be either a generic--science fiction, mystery, or romance--or a surefire runaway bestseller. This renders an out-of-category book, other than one capable of significant publicity based on the author's reputation or connections, virtually unpublishable.

By rule two, effort must be spent promoting, advertising, and selling only the product leaders: the books which a publisher plans from the outset to be bestsellers. (Accidental bestsellers are all but impossible.) Thus the publishing industry's reliance on celebrity books, movie and television tie-ins, "formula" bestsellers, self-help books, cookbooks, cute calendars, and gimmicks.

By rule three, category books must sell themselves by generic packaging and, sometimes--such as the general-fiction category--author's name, alone, minimizing the risk that customers will perceive each new book as the unique product it is. Corollary is that a different book package must be developed and manufactured for each category into which one would wish to shelve the same Work. This is rarely worth the effort and the risk is almost never taken.

By rule four, literary invention is an undesirable risk. This makes it necessary for the "uniqueness" of books to be eliminated as much as possible, in order to make it possible to sell them as "just as good" as the last one. (Sequels are the book business's equivalent of a detergent manufacturer labeling a product "new and improved.")

By rule five, an author with name-recognition value in a particular category must be shelved in that one category whether the new Work fits that category or not. Thus will one find Isaac Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare shelved in the science-fiction section of some bookstores.

These are the market realities that a publisher must deal with--that place an acquiring editor in blinders and saddle an author--before that publisher decides whether a particular Work has even the slightest chance of overcoming the considerable costs of acquiring rights, editing, typesetting, packaging, manufacturing, selling, advertising, publicizing, shipping, warehousing, and (for paperbacks) destruction.

All these are endemic limitations on book publication, even before one gets to the epidemic book-industry difficulties such as coordinating availability of books with their advertising and publicity, the mis-forecasting of trends, or the collapse of marketing commitment for books already acquired--or even in production--because the acquiring editor has left the company.

II. How Electronic Availability Changes Publishing Assumptions

Even before we get to the Author's and Reader's perspective on publishing, we can show how electronic availability can solve publishers' problems concerning distribution.

Retailers can also obtain much of these benefits, since a percentage of consumers will prefer to do business through already established retail channels.

We can eliminate the retail assumption of "scarce shelf space" at the outset: both storage space and display space in electronic media are, for all practical purposes, unlimited. "Shelf-life" no longer being scarce, there is no necessity of "moving" a product or taking it off sale, or requiring that sales be impulse "buys."

By eliminating start-up costs and therefore start-up risks caused by the book-manufacturing process, we can bring down such costs and risks to a level that can only be thought of as "spectacularly low."

We can reduce the lengthy years between delivery of a completed Work to the publisher and earnings of revenue which can be paid to the Author to several months, obviating the necessity of large up-front "advances."

Storage costs approach zero: about $1.00 per Work, period.

Manufacturing cost before placing a title on sale: $0.00. (Preparation of the Work is now the author's financial responsibility.)

A grand total of One Copy needs to be published on disk before making the first sale: all further copies of most Works can be placed onto disk in minutes; a copy can be downloaded via modem in somewhat more minutes--but minutes nonetheless. Availability to the consumer can better mass-market distribution, while every order can be filled as if it were a special order.

There need be no out-of-print titles, no remaindered or destroyed copies. We can reduce inventory to one copy per title. Shipping cost per unit on disk approaches that of first-class letters or--for download via modem--can be costed directly to the consumer.

There is no necessity of a time-limit on availability of a title: costs can be amortized over a much longer time than for book publishing.

There is no necessity of choosing one particular category in which to publish a Work: it can be simultaneously published in all marketable categories: categorization by key-word can now be inclusive rather than exclusive, encouraging--rather than discouraging--diversity in the marketplace.

Works no longer need to be placed onto inappropriate "shelves" because of the author's name value: cross-referencing can make it available in all marketable categories.

There is no necessity of relying on surefire bestsellers: twenty titles selling moderately well can produce the same profitability as one title selling very well.

Finally, there is no longer any reason to reject any worthwhile or interesting Work because of the risk: the risk of publication approaches its being a non-existent market feature.

Virtually in one-fell-swoop, electronic availability manages to eliminate almost the entire downside risk of publishing and distributing Authors' Works. As a consequence, the cost-per unit to the consumer can equal and ultimately drop far below mass-market paperbacks, while the unit profitability to publisher (and retailer) can approach that of hardcovers.

III. The Author's Viewpoint

From the Author's standpoint, the marketing of books is almost always a nightmare rather than a dream. An Author's most brilliant Works are often unpublishable because they are unique, or new, or cross categories lines, or because they are difficult to describe in twenty words or less.

First Works, particularly first novels, are often unpublishable merely because readers won't know the Author's name, and therefore the book is unlikely to overcome economy-of-scale minimum print-runs and produce a profit. This is compounded if the first Work is also particularly unusual or brilliant--which is often the case.

Certain categories of books--such as fiction anthologies or short story collections--go in and out of fashion--if one tries to sell one the wrong year, tough luck.

The author's share of the proceeds from sales--called "royalties," under a contract in which the publisher reserves editorial responsibility--is small: usually 10% for hardcover (up to 15% royalty after sales numbers achieved only by a small percentage of books); between 4% and 10% for paperbacks, with 8% being the commonly achieved rate given the sales figures of most paperback books. For books first published in hardcover, these paperback royalties must be shared between author and hardcover publisher, usually fifty-fifty. Usually only successful authors are able to negotiate better splits. This often leaves the share of paperback proceeds paid to author at 3% to 4%. Most states collect more in sales tax on a paperback book than the percentage received by the author who created it.

Since it takes a long time to publish a book, book publishers have the additional start-up cost of paying an author advances against royalties in order to acquire the right to publish their books.

It usually takes a year from delivery of a completed manuscript to first publication. There's a year more after that for an author to see any royalties from the first three months of sale, and if earned royalties have somehow managed to exceed the advance against royalties given the author by the publisher, the publisher will hold back a high percentage--sometimes as much as 80%--against the possibility of bookstores returning copies to the publisher's warehouse.

Often these "reserves against returns" prevent authors from seeing significant royalties for three or more years. Given such delays, and the short shelf life of a book, authors regularly figure that their advance is the only money they'll ever see from a book sale.

Except for bestsellers, advertising ranges from minimal to zip. Publicity tours are likewise fantasy for anyone but the big names. The average author is lucky to get a two-in-the-morning radio call-in show. For that all-important day of glory--the bookstore autograph signing--the author had better phone friends: they are likely the only ones who'll show up.

As for reviews, they are usually sporadic, and sometimes nonexistent. A paperback original stands as much chance of a front-page review in The New York Times Book Review as Jesse Jackson has being elected…Pope. Even a respectable novel published hardcover by a major publisher may find itself ignored by every major newspaper, magazine, and book review in the country. Even success has its downside. An author who has had any success at all in one category may find it impossible to sell a book in another category. The author can, of course, use a pen name…but then the author loses all the painstakingly acquired name value and it's as if the author is publishing a first book.

This is a serious drawback to such a move. A beginning author must often sign a publishing contract on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, with publishers offering little advance money, giving no guarantees, assuming the right to edit the author's Work any way they see fit, and taking high percentages of subsidiary rights. It seems to an author like outright thievery until one realizes that even stacking the cards this way, the publisher is still more likely than not to lose money on the book.

A few authors do manage to run this gauntlet all the way to the bestseller's list. Here is comparative paradise: high advances, good distribution, prime reviews, real advertising, publicity tours, movie sales. But for most authors, the bestseller list is a Shangri-La, never to be found.

No wonder statistics show that there are only four hundred or so authors in this country of a quarter billion who are able to make a full-time living out of writing.

IV. The Electronic Alternative

Here are just a few of the ways electronic availability will be better able to serve Authors than the current book publishing industry:

Author's Problem 1: The Work is unpublishable because it is too inventive, or doesn't fit a publishing category, or the public doesn't know the author's name, or the publisher doesn't know an easy way to describe the book, or that sort of book is out of fashion.

The cost of storage and distribution of a Work electronically is low enough that there is virtually no quality Work on which an electronic bookseller can't take a chance. Additionally, an impressive enough number of copies may sell that traditional publishing may take notice and publish the Work in book form.

Author's Problem 2: Retailers, distributors, and the publisher eat up the lion's share of revenue produced from sale of a Work, leaving only crumbs for the Author.

When the Author places the Work onto disk, this is First Publication, making the Author the Work's Publisher. The Author/Publisher may then place the Work on consignment with a distributor and contract with the distributor to provide marketing and electronic dissemination services.

Pre-publication functions usually assumed in the publishing contract to be the province of the Publisher will therefore remain with the Author: editing, proofing, copyright, placing the Work in a format suitable for publication--here, putting it into a machine-readable form. The Author/Publisher may choose to contract with the distributor to provide these pre-publication services, but this is a separable function; the Author/Publisher will be free to contract elsewhere for these services.

Agents may well decide to become "Packagers," preparing their client's Works for electronic publication.

Book publishers contracting with an electronic distributor for Works they control will find the process identical to a standard subsidiary rights arrangement.

Because of the low cost of electronic storage and dissemination, a much-higher percentage of sale proceeds will be paid to Proprietors than offered by standard book-publishing contracts. (For example, the current writer's company, SoftServ Publishing, pays between one-third to one-half of the proceeds to their Proprietors [Author/Publisher], depending on how the work is sold.)

Author's Problem 3: It takes a year or more before a completed Work is published, and a year or more before royalties are finally received. Significant portions of revenue due authors are held back as "reserve against returns."

An electronic distributor should usually be able to take a completed Work in machine-readable form and have it on sale within thirty days. Statements of account and payments of share-of-proceeds for copies sold the previous month should follow every thirty days thereafter. There will be no "reserve against returns" because there will be no returns.

Author's Problem 4: Loss of control over the editing, packaging, and promotion of the Work.

All these are the domain of the Publisher. However, at Author/Publisher's discretion, all these can be contracted to be handled by the distributor, either at cash cost charged against the Author/Publisher's share of the proceeds, or with percentages of proceeds against sales dedicated to these purposes open to negotiation.

Author's Problem 5: Little or no advertising for the Work.

Advertising can be handled either by the Author/Publisher, or by the distributor, and a percentage of sales set aside for that purpose.

Author's Problem 6: Few reviews of a Work.

While how long it will take for newspapers and magazines to begin reviewing Works available only electronically is a matter of speculation, it can be assumed that the stodgy book-review media will take as long to review Works available only electronically as they have to review mass-market paperbacks: no time soon. (Still, Analog Magazine does now have a column reviewing electronically-published books.)

Nonetheless, additional review media already exist and can be created for electronic Works. Reviews can be garnered from computer bulletin boards, from fanzines, from computer users groups, and those reviews placed on computer consumer networks such as GEnie and Compuserve.

V. The Reader's Viewpoint

From the Reader's end, book-problems are more likely to be annoyances rather than life catastrophes. Readers take many of these itches so much for granted that scratching them is like providing word processors to people who've used nothing but typewriters: apprehension at first, soon followed by the question, "How did I ever put up with it?"

Here are an even dozen common problems that electronic distribution will eliminate for readers:

Reader's Problem 1: Unavailability. Variations of: "Yeah, I know you just saw the author on TV, but-"

"We don't have it in yet."

"We sold out."

"The library only has one copy, and it's out."

"We just sent all our copies back to the warehouse."

"It's out of stock at the distributor."

"We only have volumes two and three of the trilogy."

More serious unavailabilities:

"Never heard of it."

(Or the reader has never heard of it!)

"It's out of print from the publisher."

"I haven't seen a copy of that for years."

"This library doesn't have the budget to order that many titles since Proposition 13."

Most serious unavailabilities:

"The town council has passed a resolution forbidding this library to carry that book."

"The Campus Bookstore may not carry any book deemed by the Student Council to be racist or sexist."

"We burn books like that!"

Solution: Works distributed electronically can remain in on-line storage permanently, available on a moment's notice by modem, twenty-four hours a day. They can be delivered directly into the home, out of reach of all censorship short of cutting off all telephone service or banning computers and modems. Indexing of titles and cross-referencing with reviews stored on line can make information about the Works also instantly available.

Reader's Problem 2: High price: "I'll have to wait until it comes out in paperback." This leads to an additional unavailability: many hardcover books never sell to paperback.

Solution: An electronic distributor should be able to sell all but the lengthiest Works at paperback prices, but offer revenues to Authors equivalent to hardcover sales. Moreover, even when scheduled for book publication, Authors can make their Works available electronically a year before the first printing.

Reader's Problem 3: Misleading packaging due to category requirements: "This novel is titled The Tomb but there's no tomb in it anywhere!" Or, "There's a spaceship, a Bug-Eyed Monster, and a Beautiful Babe on the cover--how come they're not in the book?"

Solution: There's no necessity to limit works sold electronically to one particular category. In fact, the more categories a book can be indexed to, the better. Current book publishing is category-exclusive. Electronic Publishing can be category-inclusive.

Reader's Problem 4: Lack of variety: "After a while, these sorts of books all run together. Doesn't anybody write anything original anymore?"

Solution: Works sold through electronic media need have none of the retail market limitations on content, originality, inventiveness, breaking category, or necessity of mass sales to the "lowest common denominator." The elimination of most start-up costs and market risks makes even a first novel by a complete unknown a potential money-maker. Because of this, electronic publishing is beginning to produce a veritable renaissance in literature by eliminating all retail-created limitations on publication.

Reader's Problem 5: Storage space. Schulman's First Law: Books will exceed bookshelves.

Solution: Given the storage capacities of current diskettes, most people could keep their entire library in a shoebox. When CD-Rom becomes industry standard, entire libraries will be storable on one compact disk.

Reader's Problem 6: Shipping weight of books when moving. "Leave them behind? It took me ten years to build this collection!"

Solution: Take the shoebox (or CD) with you when you move.

Reader's Problem 7: Small type.

Solution: Set your screen fonts or computer printer to print large type.

Reader's Problem 8: Difficulty of replacing worn-out copies.

Solution: Electronic copies are digital. Placing a copy onto a permanent medium such as CD-ROM will store it permanently. Short of that, "backing up" file copies onto disk or tapes keep it ready for the creation of a new printed copy at will.

Reader's Problem 9: Difficulty locating a particular quote in a book, or a particular scene, or a character.

Solution: Global "string" searches could locate all instances of a name or key word--a useful capability for both the student and the professional.

Reader's Problem 10: Illiteracy, Blindness, Poor Eyesight, Reading Dysfunctions, or English-language difficulties.

Solution: Illiterates or those with other reading problems can simultaneously display available works on screen as text and have a voice synthesizer read them aloud. Or just the latter. For the blind reader, electronic works can be immediately available to Braille printers, refreshable Braille pads, dot-matrix printers using software designed to print Braille, voice synthesis modules, or any other equipment capable of accepting ASCii.

Reader's Problem 12: Difficulties in judging a book by its content, rather than by its cover, particularly: a) Obtaining a wide variety of reviews of a Work--a comparison of opinions--before purchase; and b) Difficulty of reading a significant portion of a book--enough to decide on purchase--while standing in a bookstore.

Solution: Through on-line reviews--all indexed both to Title and Author--the Reader will have access to a powerful tool in determining which Works are worth purchase.

Besides all these solutions to already-existing problems, there will be one primary reason Readers will come to electronic media to find the Authors they wish to read: That's where the Authors will be.

Given the overwhelming problems electronic publication is able to solve for most Authors, and the much-higher-share of proceeds-per-sale that will be available to Authors as compared to traditional book publishing, the market will surely gravitate toward even bestselling Authors placing their Works in electronic media then selling them to book publishers.

Finally, since many Works--even by name Authors--will remain unpublishable as books given the high costs, high risks, and limitations of book publishing, electronic "bookstores" will often remain the one place where Readers will always be able to find a book.

VI. Why Hasn't It Happened Yet?

Right now, electronic distribution requires more technical skill and effort than is worth it for most readers, given the limited number of titles available electronically; the inferior convenience of having to read on a VDT or spend time and effort printing a work out; and the lack of a graphics standard that can universally integrate text and graphics.

In other words, at the current level of market development, for most people horses still make more economic sense than automobiles.

The time when the advantages of electronic distribution will outweigh its disadvantages are, however, visible on the horizon.

Sony has introduced its Data Discman in Japan, a handheld reader whose CD-Rom drive can store 100,000 pages of text. Sony has sold over 70,000 of them in Japan since they introduced the Data Discman in July, 1990--and they've also sold over 200,000 disks from a selection of under 25 titles. The consumer electronics industry expect Sony to introduce the Data Discman in America and Europe by the end of 1991.

The U.S. book publishing industry now takes the idea of electronic publishing seriously. Many publishers are now demanding "display rights," in the expectation that this will be a significant source of revenue. Writers organizations such as the Science Fiction Writers of America are recommending to their members that authors maintain these rights unless publishers are prepared to pay for their use.

New text-formatting and graphic standards are beginning to be offered in the electronic marketplace. It will take only a perceived market demand for a text-and-graphics "reader" software package to be engineered and marketed.

SoftServ Publishing, this writer's company, began the acquisition of electronic rights to works by major authors in 1987, and began selling electronic editions of these works in December, 1989. Since that time, SoftServ has shown the economical feasibility (though not the profit feasibility) of distributing electronic editions of books via computer networks and bulletin-board systems, both nationally and internationally.*

VII. A Developed Market

What would a developed "paperless book" marketplace look like?

Imagine yourself at an airport, in April, 2001. You have a half hour until your flight, and want something more interesting to read on the plane than the in-flight magazine.

You head over to the Bookware electronic kiosk next to the ATM's--it looks and operates about the same as an ATM, except that it has a 101 key keyboard and a trackball--stick in a credit or debit card, punch in your PIN number, and select "search parameters" by Title, Author, Subject, Category, New Releases--and/or any "key words" you desire. You use the trackball to move the cursor and pull down menus, choosing "Science Fiction" and "Released After March, 2001" as your parameters, and the Bookware system searches over 500,000 titles in its database.

In a few seconds, the Display tells you "175 titles selected" and asks you if you want to limit the search further with a key word. You select "alien" from a list of key words displayed and a list of 24 titles appears on the display. You highlight one of them--Street People From Titan--and a full-color "cover" illustration appears on one side of the screen, with "dust jacket copy" on the other. A price of $2.95 appears in the upper-right corner. You read the jacket copy, get interested enough to select "Browse"--and the first page of the book appears on the screen, along with a little "clock" in the upper-left corner showing that you have ten minutes of free browse time--enough time to read the first chapter, or the first few paragraphs in several chapters, or time enough to see how the book ends, if you want to. The top of the screen gives you several pull-down menus, including "SEARCH/ MOVE TO?/ READ REVIEWS/ CHOOSE ANOTHER TITLE/ PURCHASE."

You choose "READ REVIEWS" and after seeing that Locus Magazine is calling the author "the next Kurt Vonnegut," you decide to buy the book. The screen asks you: "DOWNLOAD OR DISK?" You select "DOWNLOAD," and the screen tells you "READY TO SEND."

You take your Atari ReadLite out of your jacket pocket--an electronic reader weighing 9 ounces, with a high-rez, page-white screen--and plug it into the Bookware terminal. In 12 seconds, the screen tells you "Download Complete--Select Another?" But you just heard first boarding call for your flight, so you decide not to.

The screen tells you that your checking account has been debited $2.95, and reminds you that you have earned 500 bonus points with this purchase, which brings you up to 5000 points and Level 2 in the Bookware gift program. You tell the machine that you want to apply your points to frequent-flyer miles. The screen reminds you to take your debit card, receipt, and ReadLite--and you take all three, stick the Readlite back into your pocket, and head for your plane.

On the way to your gate, you pass the newsstand and decide to buy a pack of chewing gum. It costs you another $2.95.

A heck of a lot better selection than the 30 bestsellers you'd have to choose from at the airport newsstand today, no?

VIII. The Bottom Line

Judging by how well it can serve the needs of Authors and Readers as compared to the problems of book publishing today, there seems little doubt that the "paperless book" is an idea whose time has come.

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Letter to President Reagan on Space Policy

21 December 1983
Ronald Reagan
President of the United States
The White House

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing you with respect to decisions you must soon make regarding America's future in space.

As the author of two futuristic novels, it seems clear to me that if America is to have a future in space--that is, any future to speak of at all--it must come from a resurgence of the pioneer spirit. This country was built by women and men who searched for a place to live, work, and raise children in freedom. It was not built by a "Pioneer Program" funded with taxes. I urge on you the following "Five Steps to De-program Space" which history might well call "The Reagan Doctrine":

1. A Presidential Declaration that the Right to Emigrate to Space is a fundamental human right;

2. A Presidential Declaration that the proper way for a free country to move into space is with voluntary capital and efforts from the private sector;

3. An American call for all nations immediately to cease all interference with peaceful private space development both foreign and domestic;

4. A bill declaring a moratorium on all taxation and regulation of any research, technology or business promoting space industrialization or emigration;

5. The diplomatic recognition of any person or group permanently living in space habitats as Sovereign Nations.


J. Neil Schulman

Since Newt Gingrich has talked about recognizing American space colonies as states, maybe this five-point plan will find a better home than it did a dozen years ago. --JNS

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Deprogram Space

From a February, 1993 discussion on the Writers Guild of America computer bulletin-board. --JNS

I don't think NASA should be running a space program, nor do I think it should be done with tax money.

Nonetheless, we must go to space.

The usual argument against investing in space is that there are things here on earth that need doing more. But are we concerned with a specific place, or are we interested in expanding the anthroposphere--the habitat for the human species?

There are many, many industries which would pollute the anthroposphere but which are completely safe when conducted in deep space. If enough of these industries were space-based, cleaning up earth's anthroposphere would be a lot simpler.

Space has a wealth of resources which can benefit us. There's vast solar energy, unfiltered by the earth's atmosphere; hard vacuum, useful for many manufacturing processes; zero-gravity, useful for manufacturing new engineering materials or pharmaceuticals that can't be made on earth or perfect crystals, useful as semiconductors--the basis for anything with microchips or microprocessors.

One asteroid could provide the metallurgical and mineral needs of this planet for thousands of years, with no pollution of the earth needed to get at it. Lunar soil is so rich in trace elements that have been sucked out of earth soil that it could revolutionize agricultural yields and end starvation overnight.

With space-based energy collection we can increase the wealth of this planet by ten times, and conserve the oil resources of this planet for important things such as manufacturing polymers, instead of burning up oil in cars, trucks, and machinery.

Space also has one more thing the human race needs: space. I'm not simply talking about space as an unlimited habitat, which eliminates the necessity for limiting the growth of the human species. Maybe you don't like children; I do. But right now, there is no place on this planet to be free from cops, bureaucrats, and busybodies of every stripe.

And if you ask me, some elbow room is worth its weight in gold--which will also be a lot cheaper when those asteroids are the human race's new pet rocks.

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The Coming Golden Age:
A Proposal for a Nonfiction Book

Early in 1983, I submitted a proposal for a nonfiction book to Larry Freundlich, the editor who had bought The Rainbow Cadenza while he was with Simon & Schuster; he now had his own publishing company, Freundlich Books.

Either Larry was a lot thriftier with his own money than with Simon & Schuster's, or I should have taken a more traditional approach to outlining a book proposal: he turned me down.

Now, a dozen years later, you get to second-guess Larry's editorial judgment and decide whether this is a book I should have written. --JNS

The following is a transcript, obtained by Tachyon Receiver, of an interview with J. Neil Schulman, author of The Coming Golden Age, with David Hartletter on NBS television's Good Night, Good Morning, October 16, 1984.

HARTLETTER:…fun we always have on this program. (Audience laughter.) And we'll have that live report later in the show. Coming up next is J. Neil Schulman, author of the new book, The Coming Golden Age. We'll be right back after these short messages.

(Back from commercial.)

HARTLETTER: (After throwing paper airplane at Fred, his producer, off camera.) And, we're back. With us now is author J. Neil Schulman. We first had Neil on this show a year-and-a-half ago when his novel, The Rainbow Credenza…what, Fred? Oh, The Rainbow Cadenza…(Slaps his own face.)…first came out. Now, we've been hearing a lot this year about Big Brother, and everybody's been talking about how everything is just going to continue getting worse and worse…worldwide famines, depressions, nuclear holocaust…you name it, we're supposed to get it. Well, Neil doesn't think this is true at all. In fact, he thinks just the opposite, that we're on the verge of a Coming Golden Age, which--coincidentally enough--is the title of his new book being published this month. Will you welcome, then, J. Neil Schulman.

(Schulman walks out as audience applauds, shakes David's hand, sits down, waits for applause to die down.)

SCHULMAN: I can't wait for that live report.

(Audience laughter.)

HARTLETTER: Yes, what wonderful things they can do with chickens nowadays. Neil, your first two books were both fiction--novels set in the future. Your first novel, Alongside Night, showed us a U.S. economy collapsing from mismanagement, and your second novel, The Rainbow Cadenza, projected a future with seven men for every woman on Earth, and with women either being drafted into public sexual service or being hunted for rape at night. Now you come along and tell us in your new book that you actually think that things are going to be pretty rosy. Well, have you been lying to us in your first two books? I mean, what's going on here?

SCHULMAN: Well, David, of course I've been lying. One definition of fiction has always been a lie convincingly told. And, of course, both my novels were what's called "cautionary tales"--stories meant to prevent what they're portraying. But, you see, that's part of my point right off. Neither of my novels was meant to predict gloom-and-doom. I end Alongside Night, practically, with my hero and heroine walking hand-in-hand off into the sunrise. The ogre which has been beating up the economy is dead, and it looks as if things will be getting better for a change. And, in Rainbow Cadenza, while things on Earth are still pretty screwed up, there are as many people living off the planet in space colonies throughout our solar system as are living on Earth, and the space colonies are doing pretty well. But even on Earth, in Rainbow Cadenza, though there's a great deal of political oppression, they've still managed to get rid of war, famine, and depression, and people are living twice as long as now without getting senile, cancer, tooth decay, common colds, or herpes anymore.

HARTLETTER: And, you think, that these problems are as good as solved, just given enough time.

SCHULMAN: That's right. The research is being done right now, and I talk about that in detail in my new book. Now, let me get one thing straight, though. I'm not predicting a utopia, not predicting a "perfect" society. I don't believe that human beings will ever get all our problems solved. I'm reminded of something Robert Heinlein once told me: that the human race gets along by the skin of its teeth, and every time we get a problem shored up over here, something breaks through somewhere else. But the point I am trying to make with the book--have you held it up yet?…

(Audience laughs; Hartletter holds up book to camera.)

…the point I'm trying to make is that there are all sorts of really terrible things that we've had to put up with for all recorded history, and right when we're on the verge of getting rid of them, now everybody starts talking about how rotten things are. Look, I'm no fan of the status quo, but there are tendencies already present in our society that if they simply continue without being interrupted--if our institutions simply stay out of the way--the natural course of events will see them solved.

HARTLETTER: Okay, well, lets start pinpointing just what those problems are that you think we'll be getting rid of. And we'll do that right after these messages.

(Back from commercial.)

HARTLETTER: Neil was telling me during the break that they're just about to start casting the Rainbow Cadenza movie…they're trying to get Jane Seymour to play both Eleanor Darris and Vera Delaney?

SCHULMAN: Right. Vera is Eleanor's twin-daughter. By the way, it shouldn't be too long before you'll be able to do that sort of thing.

HARTLETTER: One of me is more than enough. (Audience applauds wildly.) Thank you. You really know how to hurt a guy. Okay. Now you were just about to start telling us about the problems you see being solved, and how that's going to happen.

SCHULMAN: Okay. I've divided up the advances we're talking about into three areas--corresponding to the three sections of the book. And the three sections are "Technological Advances," "Biological Advances," and "Social Advances." And, of course, it's impossible to make a breakthrough in any one of these areas without there being consequences in the other two--it's an interrelated, holistic system. Just one historical example--who would have thought that the invention of the automobile would lead within a half-century to a complete revolution--a relaxation--in sexual mores?

HARTLETTER: You mean all those back seats and drive-ins.

SCHULMAN: Exactly. That's one of the reasons making predictions about the future is always so tricky--there will probably be something you're not even considering that will affect everything. Now, the first area of advance I want to talk about I'm going to mention from the angle of "Social" advance even though it originates in "Biological." And that's because everybody is already familiar with it from the book by Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw.

HARTLETTER: You mean Life Extension.

SCHULMAN: That's right. Durk and Sandy do a terrific job of talking about the advances that will help us live longer and stay young longer, but it wasn't their intent to go into great detail about how living longer will change the way we live…and we're probably talking about the most significant change in human society we can imagine today. Suppose you knew, David, that you had another century coming to you--wouldn't that change the way you made plans?

HARTLETTER: I intend to be doing this one hundred years from now. (Audience laughs.)

SCHULMAN: Fine. I'll be here for the anniversary show. But suppose you weren't doing anything as interesting as this. You could work for the first thirty or forty years after you graduate school building up enough savings to support yourself through whatever you really want to do for the next eighty. Let's say you want to be a concert pianist. Well, you'd now have eighty free years to spend developing your musical abilities.

HARTLETTER: Well, that's just fine, but wouldn't there also be problems? How about people living on Social Security for eighty years? Wouldn't that bankrupt the government?

SCHULMAN: Right. And what you're doing is called in logic reductio ad absurdum--trying to show the absurdity of a premise. But things never reduce all the way to absurdity in the real world; something always comes along from another direction to counter it. If people start living that much longer extra, then there will have to be a corresponding change in people's attitudes and expectations about the later part of life. I don't think you're going to see a permanent class warfare between the young and the old, with twenty-year-olds being expected to pay taxes to support their grandparents who are still having children of their own.

HARTLETTER: And speaking of being reduced to absurdity, we'll be back right after these short messages.

(Back from commercial.)

HARTLETTER: And we're back. We only have a few more minutes here, Neil, so why don't you run quickly through a few more of these advances.

SCHULMAN: Okay, very quickly, then. In "Biological," you can kiss off cancer, the common cold, tooth decay, most birth defects, and so forth. Current research is progressing rapidly to find ways to reprogram our genetic code in our cells not only to cure these problems but also give us natural immunities to them--and we'll pass along these immunities to the next generation. I'm not saying these things will be cured overnight, but I don't think we'll be seeing much of them twenty to thirty years from now.

HARTLETTER: Doesn't the potential exist to use this same ability to manipulate genes to create Frankenstein monsters?

SCHULMAN: Sure. There's nothing that one human being discovers or invents that another one can't pervert into something really horrible. But there are just too many dangers in the idea of really changing genetic codes to think that a lot of this will be done on human beings. Here's where social factors start coming into play as a counter force. But there's another element--from "Technological" that starts coming into play here, and that's Space Industrialization. If you're doing experimentation in something like genetic reprogramming, you don't want accidentally to unleash some dread new disease on the general population. So the ideal place for biological experiments will be laboratories in space. Space can isolate experiments of any sort better than anything we can do on Earth. And I think that all sorts of advances will come out of the industrialization of space that nobody today can fully imagine. If there's an industry that stinks up the air, move it into space where there isn't any air to stink up.

HARTLETTER: But who'll want to live in outer space?

SCHULMAN: I think the generation of kids who are being raised on Star Wars, E.T., video games, and home computers--not to mention the Space Shuttle--will take it for granted that when they grow up, they'll be able to live in a space environment, if they want to. And it will be very attractive because there are all sorts of recreations that you'll be able to do in zero-gravity that you can't do here on Earth.

HARTLETTER: I can think of one or two right now.

(Audience laughs.)

SCHULMAN: That's exactly right. Why don't you ask your audience?

HARTLETTER: Okay. Any of you who would like to try "doing it" in zero-gravity?

(Thunderous applause and war-whoops.)

HARTLETTER: What a filthy-minded bunch! I want all the women's names at the end of the show. What, Fred? Another minute? Okay. Now, Neil, you've mentioned mostly "Technological" and "Biological" advances. What about "Social"?

SCHULMAN: Okay. I'm predicting a vast lessening of war and political tyranny on Earth during the next century. My reasons are as follows. First, I don't think there's all that much danger of a nuclear holocaust, except by accident--and spy satellites reduce the danger of that all the time. For any nation other than the Big Three--any country that threatened to use nuclear weapons would get immediate threats from Washington, Moscow, and Beijing telling them not to or else. And for the U.S.S.R., China, and us, if any of us tried to start anything with one of the other two, we know that the third will still be around to pick up all the chips. If Russia tried to attack us, several million Chinese would move in from the south. And, very frankly, I'm not too worried about Washington starting a nuclear war--there just aren't any political or economic advantages to be gained by it. I think there's going to be a lessening of world tensions as it becomes clear that nuclear war just isn't practical. But the main reason I don't think the Cold War is indefinite is that the technological advances resulting from the industrialization of space--particularly cheap energy from solar power collectors in orbit, beaming power down to Earth--will create a worldwide economic boom. With cheap energy, you wipe out at a stroke famine, depression, overpopulation, and the political pressures toward war that these cause. I show the sequence in some detail in the book. The more affluent the Third World becomes, the less reason there will be there for war--and there goes half the world's trouble spots. And affluence leads to a consumerist mentality.

HARTLETTER: Doesn't that lead to overcommercialism?

SCHULMAN: I think "overcommercialism" is partly the way you look at things, but even if it does, I think that would be a small price to pay for a world without starvation, constant wars, and tyranny. The richer people get, the harder they are to push around.

HARTLETTER: And, we're going to have to get in some overcommercialism of our own. A fascinating book. That's The Coming Golden Age (Holds up book again.) by J. Neil Schulman. Thank you, Neil. And we'll be right back with the chickens right after these important messages …

(Fade to commercial.)


* And, obviously, I found a way to get back into the paperless publishing business, as soon as I saw that the problems I described had largely been solved by the World Wide Web.

For a complete history of SoftServ, see my two-volume Book Publishing in the 21st Century, available for download at

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