Required reading for thewired generation

In future, to have your book published, all you will need is a website
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The Independent Online

A MAJOR breakthrough has recently made electronicbooks more pleasurable to read. Instead of the usual blur and vague fontclarity on the screen, a new enabling technology called ClearType has emergedfrom the Microsoft dungeons.

A MAJOR breakthrough has recently made electronicbooks more pleasurable to read. Instead of the usual blur and vague fontclarity on the screen, a new enabling technology called ClearType has emergedfrom the Microsoft dungeons.

Invented by Bill Hill, a Scotsman with apropensity for wearing kilts at technical conferences, ClearType hugelyimproves word recognition on the screen to a level equal to ink's legibilityon printed paper.

ClearType uses the red, green and bluesub-elements of each pixel, so characters can be sharpened to mimic thequality of the print book. That means you can lie on the sofa with youre-book and still achieve a quality reading experience even with the lightsdimmed. Microsoft Press is already publishing computer books for e-bookapplications, and Bill Hill hinted recently that, since the researchphase is complete, ClearType is ready to move the market.

Combined witha new magazine-sized freestanding Web device called Qubit, ClearType looks like itmay have a good shot at making the portable e-book a reality. If you useQubit, as long as you remember to charge the batteries you can get and readany book anywhere - a radical concept that will put into question the futureof the libraries as well as bookshops.

However, making booksdownloadable, reading devices portable and the quality of electronic printbetter is only one way of second-guessing the future trends. WhileMicrosoft is slaving away at making screen-reading more fun, thepublishing industry has been hailing the arrival of a completely differentapproach. Back at the farm in California, Xerox gurus have been busymaking the printed book more available. Their view is that there is nothingwrong with the book in the printed format. The real issue is the distribution- you can't get any book anywhere. Even with online shops thatpromise overnight delivery, that's still 24 hours you have to wait forthe book to get to you. The other problem is that many books have a very tinydistribution, and in many cases publishers will not publish a book unlessthey can sell 2,000 or more copies.

Now Xerox has come up with a greatsolution to both problems. Imagine downloading a book from the Internet,saving it nicely to a disk and trotting along to the nearest Prontaprint to getit printed, folded, bound and labelled with a personalised cover.With the new Xerox magic, your book- on-demand press will take aminute to print 180 pages. For a book of 300 pages, the wholeprocess, including cover, should take no longer than 30 minutes. Thatbeats Amazon's delivery time by 23.5 hours.

The Xerox invention isa combination of a photocopier with a mini-printing press, and will besold at a price affordable to small corner print shop operations. The bit Ilike most is that the author's work is stored digitally, so if thereaders' feedback is that the book needs more chapters, then the authorcan simply write more and put them on the Net for the readers to download.This is pretty cool, particularly for student textbooks, manuals,anthologies and other work that for good reasons may requireextensions.

This technology will make many more new authors available towider audiences. It always bugs me that there are so many talented writersout there, but their talents require a publisher to take a gamble and givethem that first break. Needless to say, there is a bit of a bottleneckhere. Of 1,000 manuscripts submitted, a typical publisher would onlyselect five or six. Therefore many interesting stories are never told,particularly if they concern only minorities or special interest groups. TheXerox breakthrough with book-on-demand technology signifies the beginningof books being more similar to websites, where there is a strongself-publishing element and wide choice available.

In future, tohave your book published, all you will need is a website where you can storethe digital version, pictures, cover and other assets. This costsnothing, as most ISPs give free Web space. Then the interested readerwill simply chose what they find relevant, download, take it to theirlocal print shop and hey presto!

The Xerox invention is very promising buthow many books we are reading these days anyway? The latest reports from thebook industry point out that the market is growing in the gift category but notin the category of people buying for themselves. This is particularly truefor the online retailers like Amazon or BOL, as they both sell a highpercentage of books as gifts, delivered to a different address than that ofthe buyer. So books are becoming popular as gifts, but is the gifteereading them, or simply putting the present on the shelf and having warmfeelings about the sender?

In the age of increasing working hours, thebullet point culture and controlled publishing market, the future of readingas a leisure activity is highly uncertain. Let's hope that Xerox'sinvention will bring the book back to the readers and make more interestingauthors able to tell their stories.

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