Richard Seltzer's home page  Publishing home


In addition, my original web site, which I used as a sandbox to test ideas about the Web, has been preserved by the Internet Archive as part of their Wayback Machine.  They have stored 666 versions of that web site, captured from November 1996 to September 2017. This link takes you to the part of the archive that is devoted to Select the date you are interested in; then you can browse the archive the same as you do the live web, clicking on link after link.  Everything from the web site is there, including all the issues of my Internet-on-a-Disk newsletter and the hundreds of articles from my blog. 

How Ebooks Can Change Our Lives 

This article appeared before Kindle and other devices became popular.

One of our customers, Bruce Blanchard, suggested, "... appeal to a sense of culture which brings us together as people. Make us feel part of the process of our history and bring the "need to know."  Politicians have been doing this for ages. Richard, bring the reader into to the sale  Bring him/herself into the future. Politics holds few apologies. What i am saying is sell what you have with the needs we reach out for. Encourage us to grasp beyond. Your words will matter big time. You are not grasping money from our hand, you are providing the product to make us realize our dreams."

So here's the big picture:

The transformation of books to electronic form is a revolutionary technological innovation. But while such books are now readily available from many sites on the Internet, they are not yet widely used, enjoyed, and appreciated. What's needed are creative applications of this technology that capture the imagination, that make these texts truly useful and valuable in everyday life.

The nature and size of a "book" is an accident of paper and print. Electronic publishing makes new forms possible, but for the most part we continue to mimic the printed book in a new medium.

So what is there to capture the imagination? Three elements, I believe.

1) books as building blocks for cultural contexts

With paper, every additional page means more cost as well as bulkiness and weight, making the work more difficult to handle and to store. In electronic form, size does not matter. A file is a file is a file, whether it is 10 kbytes (a page or two) or 300 kbytes (about the size of Huckleberry Finn) or hundreds of megabytes or even several gigabytes.

With books in electronic form, the "book" need not be the finished product, rather it can be a building block. By putting books together in interesting combinations, readers can be stimulated to recognize important connections that could have passed unnoticed, at the same time as making it easy for a reader to follow-up references and also follow trains of thought inspired by the first work.

Books take on new meaning when juxtaposed with other works and messages from those books are amplified. In ebook collections such as those found at our bookstore, Quench Editions, the reader is able to download numerous books by the same author, which may function on an entire cultural tradition, an environment that fosters the growth of new ideas.

2) books and contexts can change and grow rapidly

With paper, books tend to be static -- once a book is published, change is expensive and slow. It might be a year or ten years before another edition is released. More often, the book goes out of print without ever achieving a second edition.

Books in electronic form can be dynamic. It is very easy to make changes and to disseminate new versions. Over time, we expect that authors will take advantage of this capability, though for now the best known are still caught up in the world of paper printing, and don't continuously improve and grow their works, while making them widely available.

For now, most readily available books in electronic form are older works, in the public domain. So creativity and change show up in the combinations of these works rather than in their creation and modification. Quench Editions updates the contents of collections, adding dozens or even hundreds of new books two, three, or even four times a year. 

3) books as an environment in which readers can actively participate

With printed books, the book is an object to be held in the hand. It is something separate from the reader, who may well appreciate and enjoy "great works", but at the same time be intimidated.For we, in awe, study those works. 

Electronic books immediately immerse the reader in an environment of ideas and creativity. Books can be saved on a hard drive and readers can add highlighting, comments and related thoughts which are saved with the original book. Each ebook can become a reader's personal commonplace book -- like a diary, reflecting personal development, tastes, inspirations,personal thoughts, and related writings. And of course, it is possible to connect various works through hyperlinks.

At the same time, the barriers to "publication" go down as the costs of copying and disseminating works plummets.That means that more people venture to "publish" their own works -- on the Internet, on  -- sometimes doing it for free (for the pleasure and the stimulation of having an audience and interacting with that audience). The best example I've seen of that phenomenon is "fanfics". These are story-length and book-length works based on popular TV, movie, videogame, and book characters and situations (many are based on Japanese anime creations). They are typically written by teenagers and posted on the Web, available for anyone to read for free. There are tens of thousands of them available today, with the numbers growing fast. In some cases, the writing is exceptional. The imagination and creativity shown by these authors is extraordinary. Some creative fans make their own selections of what they believe to be the best, acting as volunteer self-appointed editors. 

At some point, hopefully -- if we're lucky, sometime in the next century -- legislators will alter copyright laws to make more, rather than fewer books freely available in the public domain, to encourage adaptability and growth of works of the imagination, and to encourage creativity. But even within the limits of current law, much is possible that was never possible before. We can all begin to participate in, rather than just watch and study, the joint adventure of mankind -- trying to understand ourselves and the world we live in and the ways we interrelate; using the written word to talk together across the globe and across centuries, finding words that spark new thoughts in us and writing words that spark new thoughts in others.

Rethinking "Books" and "Ebooks" 

This is the text from the radio program "The Computer Report," which is broadcast live on WCAP in Lowell, Mass., and is syndicated on WBNW in Boston and WPLM in Plymouth.
According to, "An e-book, or electronic book, is a digital book that you can read on a computer screen or electronic device. A reader is the device or software to which you download your e-book in order to read it. currently supports the Microsoft software reader. You can purchase an e-book from at any time, but you must have a reader installed and activated on your computer before you can download an e-book you have bought."
For the world's largest seller of books, that is a very limited definition of ebook, and an even more limited policy -- as if Microsoft needs to be part of the equation? Actually, I've been selling ebooks -- plain text on ordinary diskettes -- through Amazon for a couple years. And now I'm adding a line of audio-text books on CD ROM. You can find my works by searching their main catalog. But you'd never know I was in the ebook business from the ebook section of their site. In my righteous indignation, I wanted to send a message to Amazon, giving them an accurate definition of ebook.

So what is an ebook? What's going on? What's likely to happen? And how does this get tied into all the silliness over Napster?

A book in digital form is an ebook. It need not have a physical form that can be carried around.

In an ebook, the content may be stored as text (etext) and/or sound and/or images. It may then be copied, distributed, and output in a wide variety of ways. It may be distributed by email, ftp, on diskette, on CD-ROM, on DVD, etc. Its format may be plain text, HTML, SGML, PDF, or any of a variety of encrypted formats. Unless special restrictive technology is applied, an ebook can be freely copied to computers and from computer to computer and saved on digital storage media of all kinds. It can also be printed on a computer printer and read in paper form.

But what is a book? Surely, not just a large number of printed paper pages bound together, or a mechanical gadget for displaying text...

A book is a large and meaningful set of words. It can exist in many forms, both analog and digital, but its ultimate destination is the human mind.

Computers can remember any sequence of characters or code, regardless of whether it has meaning. But humans can only deal with lengthy content if it can be interpreted by them -- they can store very little raw data, but vast amounts of meaningful information. So you might say that when it comes to large sets of data, computers can store anything, but humans can only store books.

Today, very few people bother to memorize entire books. It takes talent, training, and dedication to do so. In our day, it would probably take the incentive of strong religious belief to accomplish such a monumental feat, like memorizing the Koran, when such easier means are readily available for saving and accessing book content. But when necessity dictates -- e.g., prior to written language and in imagined scifi worlds like Fahrenheit 451 -- humans can expand their memorizing capability far beyond what we consider normal today.

The content of a book can be created by a human, communicated from one human directly to another (by voice or other direct signals), or stored in code for later retrieval by him or someone else (if there is agreement on the code). The first codes were visual (written language and its forerunners on the walls of caves). A visual code can be implemented by hand (using a chisel, stylus, pen, etc.) on virtually any solid medium (including sand) or by the use of machinery (like printing presses and typewriters) on media designed for their use (such as paper or cloth).

In the past, whatever could be represented visually could be duplicated photographically. And whatever you could duplicate photographically, you could make multiple copies of, using printing equipment, at some cost. And whatever could be represented with sound could be recorded using analog media, like tape, and then duplicated or broadcast, at some cost.

Today whatever can be represented visually or in sound can be easily converted to digital form. Once in digital form, it can be stored, copied, and distributed at practically no cost.

The mind also converts sound to meaningful form to remember it -- as words or music or both combined. I hear a story and retell it to my kids. I hear a ballad and play and sing it to other audiences. I hear a tune, whistle it, sing it, play it on a variety of instruments, improvising along the way. Someone hears that and does likewise. The brain serves as a storage medium -- sometimes imperfect, sometimes creative.

So where does this lead us? What is the end point?

We need to remember that the human brain is the ultimate storage and retrieval device for books and music and that this means of storage and retrieval fundamentally involves interpretation and change. "Meaning" refers to the brain's interpretive power. We see or hear raw data and remember the "meaning" -- what results when we have decoded the data and adapted its content to our unique needs and perspectives.

Sooner or later technology will make it possible to vastly enhance the memory power of the human brain -- biologically, electronically, or a combination of both. Whether it's a pill or a microchip that provides the enhancement, the brain itself will become the primary storage medium for books -- just as it was in the days before written language.Today, advanced computers can store and retrieve everything that their user sees or hears over the Internet. In the future, your enhanced brain will be able to store and retrieve everything that it sees, reads, or hears.

In other words, sooner or later, books and music will be free. The pace of adoption of technology and the speed bumps of legislation can slow our approach to that point. But that's where we are headed.

In the digital world, what do you sell and buy when you sell and buy a book or a piece of music? In the past, you sold and bought physical objects that were needed to store the information. It cost money to reproduce those physical objects, so you paid enough to provide incentive for producers, manufacturers and distributors to perform their roles.

Now there is no physical object and there is little or no associated cost for reproducing, storing or distributing the content.

Today, publishers of books and music are fighting a rear-guard action, trying to artificially create in the digital world barriers to reproduction, storage, and distribution. They are doing this by means of encryption schemes and associated devices for reading books and playing music.

Mechanical and electronic devices (known as readers) may help and may even be needed to make the content of a book understandable. Such devices include print-to-audio converters, etext-to-voice converters, computers, cassette players, MP3 players, and specialized gadgets designed to deal with encrypted etexts.

Up until recently, the purpose of mechanical and electronic reading devices was to make books accessible by more people in more ways. The purpose of the new generation of readers is somewhat bizarre. Publishers deliberately make their content inaccessible through encryption, and electronics manufacturers sell devices and software designed to unencrypt that content and present it in usable and attractive form. You wind up paying them not just for the content, but for the means to solve the problem that they themselves created.

I hope that this is a temporary aberration -- an attempt to use technology to block the advances of technology and thereby allow old and obsolete business models to persist. I hope that both publishers and electronics manufacturers will eventually return to the task of making books accessible to more people in more ways.

Publishers are also depending on legal barriers to defend both their ownership of the content and their means for limiting access to it. They are turning to the courts again and again to fight off new threats. But since their content no longer needs to be embodied in physical objects, it becomes very difficult to trace where it goes and who copies it and stores it and redistributes it, or to figure out the path by which the copy on this computer got there. Also, in the past, if there was an instance of theft, in most instances, the perpetrators had the same economic incentive as the original producers -- they wanted to make, distribute, and sell physical copies of the content. If they were successful, they were easy to track down. And if they weren't successful, they were insignificant and not worth bothering about. But today, the folks who are copying, storing, and distributing books and music are doing so just to enjoy it and to share it. There are millions of them, all doing it on a small scale, and using technology that makes it easy for them to cooperate with one another without ever communicating directly with one another. Just imagine the enforcement nightmare that that presents.
It would be better for publishers to devote their money and their creativity to finding new business models that work in a world where books and music can be duplicated, stored and distributed for free, where they have no control over content once it has been made available to the public, just as they have no control over it once it has entered my mind.

The Internet and Books: Transformation of an Industry

This article is the text of a radio program "The Computer Report," which is broadcast live on WCAP in Lowell, Mass., and is syndicated on WBNW in Boston and WPLM in Plymouth, Mass.

Sooner or later we'll all be reading electronic books like in the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- using portable computer-like gadgets. Then the nature of books themselves will change since they won't have to be read linearly from beginning to end, but rather will have many hyperlinked and search-based paths; and with sound and video as well as text. Already there are tens of thousands of books in plain text electronic form available for free over the Internet, thanks to volunteer projects like Gutenberg. But while I applaud those efforts and download many of those texts, I must admit that I rarely read them -- only when I haven't been able to find a print edition of the same book. That's partly a matter of habit and largely a matter of eye balls -- it just isn't comfortable yet either with regard to the experience of text on a screen or portability. My eyes get tired when trying to read something lengthy -- so I'm inclined to print out the articles and book chapters I come across on the Web. Also, my laptop's batteries run down too fast, and my palm's screen and type size are a nuisance for anything but short messages.
But in the meantime, long before the electronic book comes of age, the Internet is having an enormous impact on the book industry.

Take for instance, the Harry Potter phenomenon. I got hooked reading the first three books aloud to my son. So when word got out four or five months ago that a fourth book was in the works, I went to Amazon and placed my order. At that time, I was surprised to find that many others had done so also -- that already the new Harry Potter book was the number one best seller at Amazon, even though it had not yet been published. This was truly extraordinary. Books are usually not purchased in advance of being manufactured. It's usually a wild gambling game on the part of the publisher -- guessing how many will sell, printing that number, shipping them off to distributors and stores, hoping that they get shelf space and visibility and word of mouth, and then having those distributors and stores return unsold copies for full credit.

Before, the publisher only learned about demand after the crucial decisions had been made. Before, the publishers only contact with the reading public was indirect, based on feedback from the distributors and book stores.

Now, thanks to online book sellers like Amazon, the process has been speeded up greatly, and buyer behavior is changing radically. In fact, by Saturday, July 8 -- the official publication date -- Amazon alone had sold 357,644 copies of the new Harry Potter book. They have even set up a special "Harry Potter Store" where they try to point fans to other similar products and where they also keep a count, updated hourly, of how many copies have been sold at Amazon.

But what about immediacy? Here's a book in high demand, a book that people have been anxiously awaiting for months. Why order it over the Internet and wait for days or weeks for it to be delivered, when you could drive around the corner and pick up one at a local bookstore?

When I ordered my copy, I selected "standard shipping" -- 3 to 7 days. I didn't want to pay a premium price to get it quickly, even though I was tempted to do so. I suspected that with this high level of demand, local stores will soon be out of stock. I even suspected that Amazon would soon be out of stock, and that in any case, it would probably be a couple of weeks after the publication date before I could get my copy.

Much to my surprise, I got an email from Amazon the night before telling me that at no extra charge they had upgraded me to FedEx overnight/Saturday delivery and that my copy was on the way. Then at 11 AM on the day of publication, it arrived. That's service. That's delighting your customers. And that's turning what could have been a logistical nightmare into a triumph. In a broader sense, the Internet, by changing the nature of ordering and distribution is redefining the rules of the game for printed book publishing.

Meanwhile another important change has crept up on us, without anywhere near the fanfare of the Harry Potter book. Technology has been making it possible to economically produce printed books in smaller and smaller quantities. Typesetting has become a matter of converting ordinary word processing files. And the machines used for printing and binding have become so flexible, thanks to computer control, that it is no longer necessary to print thousands of copies of the same thing at the same time to drive down manufacturing costs. In fact, it is now possible to economically print and bind a single copy of a book.

In other words, with this approach, customers could order books before any copies are printed, and publishers would be able print and distribute individual copies on demand, eliminating the enormous waste in the present hit-or-miss system. But how would that actually work?

People who frequent bookstores typically want to hold a book in their hands and flip through the physical pages before making up their mind. But people who have grown used to buying books over the Internet, don't need that tactile experience any more. Descriptions, reviews, and excerpts are sufficient to help them decide. And clearly there are hundreds of thousands, probably millions of people who have gone through that change of habit already.

But what about immediacy? I recently bought a print-on-demand book from 1st Books. I had heard about a new translation of Good Soldier Svejk, a comic novel set in the First World War that has an enormous reputation in Europe, but which had been rarely read in English because of the poor quality of the translation in the Penguin edition. I placed my order at the 1st Books Web site, paid my $10.95, plus standard shipping by credit card. And five days later the book arrived at my house -- an attractive, professional looking, easy to read, and well bound paperback book.
If the word spreads, this way of producing and distributing books could and should become the norm. With no waste in printing and distributing and warehousing large quantities of books that people don't want, the costs and risks of book publishing could diminish greatly. And that could lead to an increase in the variety and quality of books readily available to the public. In other words, today, thanks to the Internet as a means of connecting buyers and sellers, we are seeing the beginnings of a major revolution in book publishing, still long before electronic books begin to replace paper.

Implications of Electronic Books and Print On Demand

We are used to thinking of a book as an artifact -- a physical object. Yes, an author might return to a project later and make revisions and additions, but each successive edition is fixed and permanent. Now that books can exist in electronic form, not just on paper, and can be made available over the Internet, not just in physical stores and libraries, such assumptions are becoming obsolete.The Internet, print-on-demand, and electronic book formats don't just change the physical form of books and the means for distributing them. They also change the nature of the content, the relationship of the audience to the content, and possibly the relationship of the audience to the author.
First, we need to begin thinking of books as living entities, that can grow over time, and that need not have a fixed form.

Creators of imaginative worlds and characters often return to and add to them. What began as a single novel, might be expanded in a sequel, become a trilogy, and then just keep growing. Examples are Asimov's Foundation series, and Herbert's Dune series. Sometimes the additions to the ongoing narrative are in the form of short stories or novellas, which get published in magazine rather than book form, and are hard to find, until finally assembled into anthologies and multi-volume sets. Sometimes, too, authors clarify their intent in articles and interviews; and critics and fans publish related articles and books, which may some day be collected. And editors assemble similar works by numerous authors into anthologies, which they issue again and again, adding to and subtracting from the content with each new edition. In other words, the creative effort grows and changes over time, but its published form has always been fixed -- like still photographs -- and reproduced thousands of times.

Making a virtue of necessity -- for there was no other way to "publish" -- we came to depend on the sameness of these literary artifacts as the basis for our common understanding and discussion of the content. In the days of Homer, when composition was oral, the content and the experience of the audience may have differed widely from one performance to the next. But for modern man, Moby Dick was the same every time, everywhere; and to be precise, scholars could specify the edition.

Now, thanks to the Internet and print-on-demand, books need no longer have a fixed form. Every electronic copy or print-on-demand copy might differ -- due to decisions of the author and also decisions of the reader/buyer. Authors could add chapters or paragraphs or sentences anywhere in their works, at any time. The work need never be "finished" so long as the author remains alive. Authors could also make everything they write available through the same online publishing/printing service, leaving it up to the reader/buyer to decide which pieces to take and how to assemble them.

For instance, Jeff Thomas has written numerous stories about the same fantasy realm, a paperback from Ministry of Whimsy Press. Say he makes those stories available online and writes half a dozen more Punktown stories over the next year and makes them available through the same service. Then a reader who had never read any of them could choose to buy the whole set of stories and have them printed and bound in a single volume. Or someone who already had the first Punktown could choose to, for a different price, just buy the new ones. And maybe Jeff makes the stories available as he writes them, rather than waiting to collect them; and adds ones he wrote earlier that have been gathering dust in his attic; and occasionally goes back and polishes one or more of these stories; and even makes available online works-in-progress that he knows aren't "finished", in hopes of getting useful feedback from enthusiastic readers.

And suppose articulate readers do send him feedback and reviews and Jeff decides to (with their permission) include their comments, articles, and even related books through that same publishing service. Then folks interested in his work could benefit from one and another's insights, and he'd probably end up selling more books. Then, too, some readers might choose to include some of this criticism and fan commentary in the "book" that they choose to buy. And some readers will choose to purchase an "anthology", including not just Jeff's work, but also stories and articles that they perceive as related and would like to experience together -- like assembling your own "mix" of music, making your own music tape or CD. In fact, some readers may wish to include selected music and images along with the text they buy.

Meanwhile authors begin to recognize the value of feedback and strive to encourage it. In many cases, insightful comments are more valuable to authors than money -- both in helping them to improve their work and also in helping them reach a wider audience. So, in this environment, it makes sense for authors and publishers to offer credits and recognition in return for quality feedback and reviews. And with the resulting proliferation of reviews and reader commentary, new online services evolve that rate and aggregate the best of this writing about writing. And that, too, becomes content that readers could choose to include in the "books" that they buy.
In other words, the traditional sharp barriers between writers and readers fade. The act of writing becomes more explicitly a collaborative effort. The act of buying a book becomes more of a creative act, with the buyer choosing what belongs in the package. The "rules" of writing and publishing change radically; the concept of "book" changes radically; but the writing and appreciation of fiction flourishes.

Electronic Rights and the Public Domain

Twenty years ago, when the small press movement was gaining momentum, I started a little company to publish a children's book I had written -- The Lizard of Oz. Offset printing had become so inexpensive that anyone could become a publisher. There were book fairs everywhere, and a spirit of camaraderie and sharing prevailed among beginners like us. Everything seemed possible. The world would be transformed.

Gradually, I woke up to the fact that while it was easy and inexpensive to put words onto paper, distribution was slow, expensive, and inefficient. Even with good reviews (the media were actually looking for small press material to review), it was very difficult to get books into stores. And even if the books arrived into stores, they did not stay on the shelves for long.There is only limited space on shelves.

Now we are experiencing the same kind of excitement and sharing with the Internet. Only this time the information is in electronic form. That means that not only can anyone publish, but the means of distribution are available to everyone as well. Often we presume that while the score and the players change, the rules of the game remain the same. But we are now at a turning point in the history of publishing. With the proliferation of electronic texts, old rules do not necessarily apply and new ones have not been established. The choices that authors make today can help establish what will be common practice for many years to come.

Traditional publishers are waking up and beginning to include "electronic rights" in their contracts and are trying to get their authors to sign over electronic rights for previously published works. Authors should think very carefully before signing such documents, should consider the other options and their implications.

Step back. Why do you write? -- to be read.

Yes, authors would like to be paid for their work, though that is likely to be more symbolic than substantial -- an indication that work is valued and accepted by the establishment. (Very few writers receive significant sums for their work). But, most likely, the primary motivation is to share thoughts and creations with others.

Why does a traditional company publish authors' works? -- to make money.They invest in work because they expect to get a return, whether from the marketplace or from grant money. Even university presses will not keep a book in print if they cannot make a profit from it.

In cyberspace, an electronic book can stay in print indefinitely, at practically no cost. As long as the work exists at one public site on the Internet, it remains available to everyone who is interested, everywhere in the world. And electronic texts on diskettes can be quickly and inexpensively copied for colleagues and students. This means authors can keep their works alive either by placing them in the public domain or by retaining copyright, but making them freely available in electronic form.

By all indications, this parallel approach actually increases sales of traditional print editions by making the work more widely known.
When authors put their work in the public domain or retain electronic rights and make their work freely available in electronic form, the public gains access to their work for the indefinite future, and the authors win new readers.

Beyond Banner Ads: Turn A Newspaper Audience Into Revenue

This article is text of a radio program "The Computer Report," which is broadcast live on WCAP in Lowell, Mass., and is syndicated on WBNW in Boston and WPLM in Plymouth,

In the past, many of the most successful public Web sites based their business on banner advertising. The larger their audience the more the ad revenue. Hence they did everything imaginable to increase their audience -- including giving away content and many different kinds of services for free.Now, with the sharp decline in advertising revenue, they need new business models. That means reassessing what they should give away and what they should charge for. For instance, many newspapers are considering charging for their online content. 
Charging for Content Based On Age

The news value of newspaper content changes over time, and the marketing value of content on the Web also varies over time -- but in different ways.

Some newspapers now provide current news for free on the Web and charge for access to their archives. That model presumes that current news -- having inherent value, that people are used to paying for in the print world -- should drive traffic to the site. But, unless you go to great expense to build your brand name or unless you have the right partner agreements, no one will know that you have the latest story -- no one but the people in your traditional audience, who you can prompt with notices in your print edition. 

The best way to capitalize on free current news to draw new traffic is in partnership with news distribution services, such as NewsEdge, YellowBrix, and ScreamingMedia. For instance, NewsEdge provides newsfeeds to, which distributes them, tailored to individual needs, for free to individuals and Web sites. It's far more valuable to have your headlines dancing across the screens of thousands of users than trying to charge subscription fees for the latest content, like a subscription to a print newspaper.

But the revenue likely to come from charging for archived newspaper stories is very small, because only a handful of experts and researchers have sufficient interest in old news to be willing to pay for access to it. It makes much more sense to make the archives available for free, and use them to build traffic to your site -- storing all that text in search-engine friendly ways (e.g., as static Web pages, rather than in a database).

As for old news, a story from six months ago doesn't matter anymore to very many people, but such a story would have had time to be included in search engines, to have been bookmarked by readers and linked to by sites devoted to that particular subject -- hence such a story could bring new traffic to your site.

In other words, while the news value of content declines over time, the marketing value of that same content increases over time. So it makes sense to use the old content as a marketing asset, rather than trying to sell it.

So what should you charge for? Not the old news and not the very latest, but rather recent news -- stories a day to a month old. Those are the stories people pointed you to in email or that you heard about the next day or that you didn't get a chance to read on the day of publication. You know what you want. You know that you need it. You understand its value to you. And you'd be willing to pay to get it -- either by subscription or by the article.

But don't expect miracles. Live newsfeeds (through services like and archives fully indexed by search engines can both boost your traffic. But, while you could make some money selling "recent" news, that's not likely to amount to major revenue.

Giving Away Base Level Content and Selling Professional Level Content

Other companies today offer a base level of content or service or software for free, and charge for the professional level.

In the case of a newspaper, you could provide headlines and the first few paragraphs of each story for free; but charge (a la carte or by subscription) for the complete detailed story and related services (like tailored news alerts). For this approach, you would want to have huge content resources available -- perhaps the content of other newspapers owned by the same group as yours; or perhaps content you pick up from other newspapers in partnership deals.

If I am interested in following a story about an election or a major archealogical find or a riot or a very successful business, can I easily search across a whole set of newspapers and easily access all those stories? Can I have access to the complete text of stories that were shortened or that never made it into the paper because of space constraints? Can I have access to similar information provided by content partners? Can I request alerts of followup stories about the same or similar subjects?

Classified Ads

Consider making the classified ads at your online site far more extensive than those in the print edition of your paper. 

With classifieds, you want to make it easy for both the seller and the buyer them to do business with you. If all classifieds from numerous print publications are available through the same site, then I could search for a particular kind of product and focus my search however I like. That's very convenient for me (instead of having to search separately three or four times at different sites), and it gives the advertiser broader reach. Hence partner with other sites to build a larger pool of classifieds. 

Selling Your Audience

Even if you provide free access to the content at your site, you might be tempted to force your visitors to register, because you could then sell mailing lists based on detailed demographic information you gather.

That model presents two problems. First, mandatory registration greatly reduces traffic, even when registration is free. People simply don't want to go through that hassle. Your traffic might drop to a quarter or even a tenth of what it is today if you suddenly added mandatory registration. And if you then sell those mailling lists, you could make lots of people angry, from all the spam they would get.

It is an entirely different matter if you make registration voluntary, and offer incentives for people to sign up (like the customer discount cards at supermarkets). Let people opt for email alerts etc. on subjects of concern to them, and also for email ads for special deals they might be interested in. Make it optional. Make people want to do it. And then you can sell the mailing lists -- but only very carefully, so these people will only receive mail related to the interests they have expressed.

Actually, this approach is a variant of advertising -- you are generating revenue by selling access to your audience.

Serving Your Audience

Instead of selling your audience, consider offering them paid value-added services.

First build your audience -- and remember that your online audience may well be both larger and very different from your real-world audience. Then strive to understand what they need and value, and build new businesses around what they want. 

For instance, how many of your page views are for business-related stories? how many for sports? how many politics, etc.?

In terms of business, you probably have readers who are investment managers, investors, people looking for jobs as managers, people looking for companies to partner with, to sell to, and to buy from. Such people would probably value alerts (by email, to pager, to cell phone, etc.) when news directly affects something of importance to them. They might also value online events that put them in touch with decision makers and people with the reputation of experts.

For teens, online interaction is probably more important that static content (and is probably far cheaper to generate). How many people in your audience, for instance, are teenagers who are into video games? what value-added services might they be interested in?

Think audience. Then think how can you serve that audience. Your present content is an important element of the services you will provide (so long as it is searchable and alerts can be automated).

But once you have assembled such an audience, creatively consider the other ways you could serve them.

Also, remember this is the Internet. You don't have to do everything yourself. You could partner with companies that specialize in financial services or business information and research. Use incentive-based opt-in registration to glean good info about people's wants and needs. Then have other companies offer in-depth services to this audience.

Partner galore. Find people/companies who have services that would be of interest to the dozens of sub-audiences you already reach, and link those services to those audiences -- quickly and smoothly, with you taking a piece of the action.

Ecommerce vs. the Print Industry

I recently answered a question from a student studying Print Management at Dublin Institute of Technology in Ireland. She is writing a paper on the ability of the print industry to compete with ecommerce. Can the improved printing technologies which are available today, compete effectively to maintain market share?

It's easy to imagine that a school with "technology" in its name would structure its courses in terms of competing technologies. But in the real world, companies that expect to survive don't blindly support one technology rather than another. Rather, they evolve and adapt, using whatever mix of technologies make sense to both serve their customers and earn a profit...

Companies that expect to survive and thrive should operate with a mixture of techniques, changing what they do and how they do it to take advantage of new opportunities, while capitalizing on existing assets. I'm reminded of the Circuit City ads on TV promoting the idea of buying goods online and then picking them up quickly at a physical store. In other cases, the customer may want to shop online -- using search capabilities to learn about many possible products, as in the case of shopping for books; or using decision support tools to consider a multitude of complex options, as in the case of cars or top-of-the-line entertainment systems. They then might do the actual buying face-to-face. In those cases, retailers face the challenge of how to hook online shoppers into buying from their stores. That's not much different from the challenge that computer stores faced in the early 1980s, when customers would first go to the stores that had knowledgeable retail personnel. The customers would ask all their questions, decide what they wanted to buy, and then go to a store that had no help but lower prices.

But I'm digressing...

Returning to the question from the student in Ireland, I don't see a conflict between the printing industry and Ecommerce. The printing industry is a set of companies that in the past depended on paper printing and now is rapidly evolving towards electronic printing. Ecommerce is a sales channel, an alternative way of selling products and services, which most printing companies already use and should use far more in the future.

Printing companies that are savvy should use Ecommerce to market their services: 1) traditional printing 2) print on demand and 3) electronic duplication and delivery.

Traditional printing and print on demand today typically require that manuscripts be submitted in electronic form. Print on demand is even more demanding, requiring Acrobat (pdf) format, with the person doing the submission (whether a publisher or an author) taking care of all the formatting.

There's a natural evolution toward more and more of the process being digital/electronic, until the final product is also electronic.

The changing role of printers in some ways resembles the changing role of video stores, which now rent and sell analog tapes, and increasingly also rent and sell DVDs. At the same time, cable TV companies and some Web sites make the same movies available on a pay-per-view basis. The stores could and should create DVDs on demand (from online files) rather than stocking inventory. In general, they should look for new ways to add value and serve their customers, taking full advantage of technological advances.
Likewise, printers should be looking for new ways to serve publishers, authors, and readers. Rather than presuming that their business is putting ink on paper, they should look more closely at what their customers want and how to better meet those needs. 

Alternatives to Traditional Academic Publishers

by Richard Seltzer

This article originally appeared in issue #5 of Internet-on-a-Disk, Sept. 1995.

My recent encounter with an academic publisher (MSU Press) is probably characteristic of the experience of many others. And perhaps the alternative that I am pursuing could prove useful to others as well.

Back in 1970, I chanced upon an article in the London Times of 1913 , while digging through microfilms looking for something else. Ever since, I've been fascinated by the life of Alexander Bulatovich (1870-1919). Bulatovich was a soldier, explorer, and religious leader whose field of action ranged from Tsarist Russia to Ethiopia to Manchuria to Mount Athos. He explored Ethiopia, led cavalry in Russia's conquest of Manchuria, then became a monk and went to Mount Athos, where he led a group of "heretics," who believed that the Name of God was part of God and therefore in itself divine. For practicing the Jesus Prayer (a la Franny and Zoey), 880 monks were forcibly exiled to remote parts of the Russian Empire -- that was the subject of the London Times article.

The odd shifts in his career drew me to him. I was interested in the man himself -- his energy and enthusiasm, and the puzzle of what motivated him. I suspected that he was on some sort of quest, driven by an inner need to push himself to the limits of his capabilities. I was also drawn by the strangeness of the events -- explorers in Ethiopia, the Russian conquest of Manchuria, a heresy battle in the twentieth century. I wanted to understand the man and his time, to get some insight into how people and circumstances could have interacted to produce such events.

I wrote an historical novel, The Name of Hero, which dealt with Bulatovich's Manchurian experience in 1900 and, in flashbacks, covered Ethiopia as well. That book was published by Tarcher/Houghton Mifflin in 1981. I'm now at work on a sequel and a movie script.

My best source is Bulatovich himself. He wrote a number of books, including two about his experiences in Ethiopia -- From Entotto to the River Baro and With the Armies of Menelik II . They are probably the best and most accurate first-hand sources on Ethiopia at the turn of the century. They are an original source of historical and ethnographic information about a little-known but critical and exciting period, when Ethiopia vied with Italy, France, and England for control of previously unexplored territory in east-central Africa. These are documents that any library should want to include in its black or African history collection. But, amazingly, they were only available in Russian -- in the original edition and also a recent reprint edited by Professor I.S. Katsnelson of the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow.

As Katsnelson pointed out in the introduction to his reprint: "Almost all documents of the period of Menelik's reign were destroyed at the time of the war with Italy in 1936. As for the papers of the Russian Embassy, in 1919 tsarist diplomats gave them to the French Embassy 'for safekeeping'; and in 1936, they were taken to Paris, where they were burned along with other archives in June 1940."

The main English source of information about Russian activities in Ethiopia is "Russians in Ethiopia: An Essay in Futility" by Czeslaw Jesman. This is an amusing collection of rumors and anecdotes, based primarily on Italian sources. Unfortunately, historians without access to original sources often repeat and give added authority to the errors of their predecessors.

I contacted many publishers with a proposal to translate these works. Commercial publishers, even ones with a back list of works related to Africa, indicated that regardless of the scientific and scholarly value of the project, they would not sell enough copies to justify publication. (An editor at Rutgers University Press indicated that regardless of merit, there simply is no market for any book about Ethiopia).

Finally, in the summer of 1990, I contacted Michigan State University, which has a program in Ethiopian Studies. MSU Press expressed strong interest and encouraged me to go ahead and complete the translation. The understanding was that I would serve as editor as well as translator of the work and would receive a small advance if and when the work was accepted.

I proposed publishing Bulatovich's two Ethiopian books as a single volume entitled Ethiopia Through Russian Eyes. The manuscript came to 681 pages, including my introduction and footnotes.

MSU Press sent the work to several reviewers, including a professor in Moscow. This process took another year and a half. The reviewers finally concluded that this is indeed a valuable work and should be published.The director of MSU Press then sent me a contract. The terms surrounding an advance, royalties, and payment in 10 copies of the published book were not acceptable to me. In return for those 10 printed copies, MSU expected all rights (including electronic and movie and serial) even though no rights would be exercised and even though I had made it clear that I had already published one novel and was at work on others that were related to this material. I had also informed them a year ago that Safari Magazine was publishing an excerpt, dealing with an enormous elephant hunt.

I reminded MSU of our four-year-old understanding. I am not a professor. I am not doing this because I'm in a publish-or-perish situation. This was a labor of love. It's work I feel needed to be done. But if I were to give the rights to it to a traditional publisher, I would expect some token cash payment as an advance. (In our original verbal agreement, the "standard" advance for an arrangement such as this was $2000.) I didn't expect to get rich from this work. But I also saw no reason to give up all control of and all rights to this work for payment of just 10 copies.

I wanted this work to be read. I wanted to make it available to interested scholars as soon as possible and as inexpensively as possible.I proposed giving the Press traditional print publication rights and my retaining the electronic rights, so I could make the work available over the Internet. The editor-in-chief stated that he didn't know the meaning of the term "electronic rights" and was not at all interested in negotiating , though he affirmed that "the material contained in this work deserves to be published."

In the past there would have been no alternative -- the only way to get work to an extended audience was by way of a traditional book publisher.The only real alternative for me would have been to invest in sending around photocopies to a few individuals, and otherwise let the work gather dust in a drawer. But that is no longer the case.I am now posting the entire work on my web site.

This means that immediately -- not two years from now -- scholars and libraries can access this work on-line or purchase it on diskette for a nominal price from Samizdat Express, and then can freely make copies for colleagues and students. It also means that I would welcome having the text made available for free in electronic form from other archives on the Internet (ftp, gopher, www).

At the same time, I'm also making my novel The Name of Hero available in this same format. (The hardcover publisher let the book drop out of print and the rights to that work have reverted to me -- the only printed copies available are the ones I have kept.

In a previous issue of this newsletter [Internet-on-a-Disk] I noted: "Academic publishers should reassess their standard procedures and terms in the light of current technology which can enable them to accomplish their main mission far less expensively and more quickly. And authors of academic works should think twice before submitting their work to publishers who still use antiquated methods."

So I'm practicing what I preach.


The book, entitled Ethiopia Through Russian Eyes, was published in 2000 by Africa World Press.

"Despite its bland title, this is the most important book on the history of eastern Africa to have been published for a century." 
That's the beginning of a review of my book Ethiopia Through Russian Eyes (I translated from Russian to English) From Entotto to the River Baro and With the Armies of Menelik II by Alexander Bulatovich) that just appeared in the August/Septemter 2008 issue of Old Africa (published in Kenya). privacy statement