Book Publishing:

The Web, CD-ROM and other Digital Dreams

A Getty-wide seminar sponsored by Getty Trust Publications and The Getty Information Institute. February 27, 1997, 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. at the Getty Center Auditorium.

This was the first event ever held in the new Getty Center Auditorium.

Hosted by

Richard Kinney, Director of Getty Trust Publications


Ben Howell Davis, Manager, Communications, Getty Information Institute

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Published to Bits: The New Media, Ben Howell Davis, Getty Information Institute

Information products and services are designed with computers, produced with computers, tested with computers, marketed with computers, archived as computer files, and sold via computer networks. The marriage of desk-top publishing and networked resources may have created a new medium - one that challenges all our notions of the page

Publishing to bits means the digital page can be called upon to "perform" in new and startling ways. The use of CD ROMs has already created a new way of "binding" electronic information. The World Wide Web can be viewed as a vast and evolving kind of distributed "digital pre-press" that can be employed as an end product, advertising, promotion, or collaborative environment. A "page" on the Web can contain movies, sounds, and interactive space as well as text that is linked across the globe to other pages. This is the explosion of digital bits, the New Media.

Digital publishing is something new. Content acted upon by software creates information architecture and information architecture is a performance medium. It allows content to be integrated with interactive software so that the end result is "published" - it performs for a public, a public of one or of millions. New Media is recombinant media, capable of transforming and transmitting new forms by combining old ones, inventing new ones, and allowing the "reader" to modify them. Publishing is fundamentally about knowing and telling. Publishing to bits allows the potential to create new media, new ways to understand, more interesting ways to communicate, to move in the direction of balance, and to get a sense of future possibilities.

Sandra Whisler, University of California Press

Whislerís remarks centered on issues of transitioning from a traditional book publishing university press to the demands of digital publication and communication. She noted the requirement of upgrading hardware and software and peopleware on a regular and more-frequent-than-one-would-like basis. This aspect of digital publishing is an on-going

problem that requires some degree of centralization and constant attention. The positive side to it is that publishing becomes more vital, a communication with an expanding audience that keeps authors and audience more closely associated. It requires an attitude shift from the old notions of producing single volumes to "value added" publications that exist in print, on the Internet, and in updatable forms. The strategy at the University of California Press Web site is that information may be searched for free, samples of publications are free, table of contents are free but on-line full text is available by paid subscription or by site licensing. This is a new model for publication and the Press is experimenting and having some success in this area.

Whisler also pointed that the weaknesses of an organization are exacerbated by technology. That "work-arounds" do not work and are not acceptable in the electronic information environment. Everything is visible and processes that could be hidden or delayed encounter the notion of "modified consensus" as an approval process. This "modified consensus" refers to the fact that information can be moved and accessed very rapidly and to keep the electronic engine running smoothly processes that were once slow and cumbersome like editorial approval now must be done democratically and at a faster rate. Whisler added that " the demons are in the details" for electronic publishing in reference to the ability of electronic information to be revised and perfected endlessly.

In the long term view of coming to grips with full digital electronic publishing, an organization has almost complete reorganization issues to face that may seem totally insurmountable. In the short term, the learning curve and production shifts must be born by the organization to try and keep pace. The long and short term issues can both appear to be counter-productive in the University Press situation, but to do nothing is sure disaster according to Whisler. The situation boils down to expediency vs. value added in digital publishing so that choices must be made carefully. For instance, there are many critical areas of publishing that cannot afford digital "multimedia" treatments but some effort has to be made to begin at least a thought process that will be able to take advantage of affordable solutions as they become available in a technological realm that changes daily.

Barbara Burn, MET, Splendors of China CD ROM

Burn outlined the process of producing museum exhibition CD ROMís by using small, in house production teams that were centralized as a resource for the Museum at large. Rather than contract the production to out-of-house vendors the Met has chosen to create and keep a small group of multimedia developers and editors on staff. To keep production costs down, the CD ROM formats are kept simple and elegant. They maintain quality in the reproduction of images but sacrifice bells and whistles in programming. They treat digital projects like the CD ROM of the Splendors of China as a focused publishing project that aims to produce a product for sale as part of the exhibition. This market driven approach brings the product to completion in order to meet an anticipated demand. In the case of the Splendors of China CD ROM, it has sold over 15,000 copies.

Michael Jensen, Pricing Considerations and Content-driven Pricing Models for Electronic Publications

Johns Hopkins University Press

Johns Hopkins University Press publishes forty on-line journals and two full-text, on-line major reference works. Michael Jensen cleared up several myths about digital publishing: Electronic publishing is cheaper than print, electronic publishing is easier than print, and that anyone knows what to expect in the digital economy. Electronic publishing can be just as, or more expensive that print publications based on what kind of multimedia treatment the material is given. Electronic publishing is not easier than traditional print because there are so many options available in the digital realm. And finally, digital publishing is evolving as it is being understood, which makes it very difficult to know exactly what the best choices are at any given moment. Nevertheless, digital publishing is here to stay and must be participated in.

Jensen made the astute observation that digital publishing is "content without the container". There is no thing, like a bound book, but rather the contents of the book exist as material to be accessed. In other words, the issue is how to make the material accessible, not how many units of it can be distributed. Pricing determinants therefore are the presentational demands of the material, production demands, the scope of services that the material may support, how long those services need to be maintained, the anticipated uses of the material, and the breadth of the audience or market it is targeted at.

Michael Jensen raised the notion that eighteen months as a long-range planning timeframe was very important for an electronic publication. It was the amount of time to synchronize the pricing determinants with possible shifts in the market. Jensen also pointed out how important it is to integrate information and used the Getty as an example of how integrating the information resources of the various entities would leverage the power of those information resources as publication materials.

He outlined a variety of cost-recovery models for digital publications including:

Jensen noted that older perspectives for publishing with be valuable only temporarily for the next 2-3 years. These include pricing based on the old models that calculate units of information (books), individual foraging, individual choice, libraries as holders/disseminators on campus, "Ownership", royalties as we know them, marketing/promotion as primary means of stimulating sales, and the whole idea of fundamental container-based frameworks like the packaging of paper books.

He also outlined "transitional" strategies for going between the container-based and purely content-based pricing, between unit sale and sale of access, between Intemet-as-phenomena and Internet-as-phone, and between 400 years of certainty and a chaotic future of uncertainty. These transitional strategies included Providing individual and institutional access to electronic materials, developing knowledgeable staff, developing digitized content, attending to digital access tools, recognize that dual purchase of print and electronic will be the "norm", and attending to development of digital accounting standards.

Jensen raised the idea that revolutionary change was very near in the form of "micropayments". These could be charges for digital information that could start as small as .02 of a cent , would be a very swift debit/credit transaction at very low transaction cost-- 1/ 10 cent and up, depending on security, volume, speed, and be done by automated systems (shrinkwrapped transaction systems). The reason for the sense of inevitability was that too much money was involved not to have this happen. His examples included the popularity of transaction programs like Quicken, Access/Filemaker, Moore's law, L.L. Bean, Ticketmaster, and Visa/MC. Micropayments would be necessary in a" disintermediated" system, a system that was direct to the consumer via electronic delivery. Thus Micropayments + disintermediation = revolution because content was separated from container, demand would set price, and intermediaries were not necessary--perhaps still optimal, but not required.

Current price/costs are dependent on transaction costs (cost of handling payments) plus intermediation (cost of shipping, storage, markup, promotion, advertising,human storage) plus production costs (idea into presentation: editings, markup/typesetting, server). In Jensenís scenario, transaction costs will drop to virtually nothing w/in 5 years based on the reality that half your current telephone bill is billing costs and micropayments will allow instantaneous payment thus taking the billing costs out of the charge, and then when databases provide human-free billing the phone bill will drop even further. In the new micropayment option transaction and intermediation costs plummet, prices become dictated by the nature of publisher, author, and content almost exclusively. In the micropayment world there will be:

Jensen concluded by positing that the "possible becomes the required very fast online". His evidence for this included the rapid demand for hypertextual links, active graphics, full motion video, and sound on the Web. If microroyalties are possible then they will be demanded. Jensen said that micropayments will come. What are we going to do about it? The content, the audience, the demand, the author's demands, the ongoing costs, everything becomes a variable, which vary among individual sales. What are our responsibilities? What are our opportunities?

The new demands on the publisher will be: