On March 14, 2000, Stephen King, the horror writer, published his new book, Riding the Bullet, on the Internet before it appeared in print. Within 24 hours, around 400,000 people had downloaded the book—even though most of them needed to download software in order to read the book. The unexpected demand crashed servers. According to Jack Romanos, president of Simon & Schuster, “I don’t think anybody could have anticipated how many people were out there who are willing to accept the written word in a paperless format.” To many, this announced the coming of the electronic novel. Environmentalists applauded that e-books would soon replace paper books and newspapers, thus reducing pollution coming from paper mills and landfills. The King book was easy to download and took less time than a trip to the bookstore. Critics argued that the King book used the Internet because at 66 pages, it was too short to be a standard printed novel. It was also free, so there was nothing to discourage natural curiosity. Some people in the industry estimated that 75% of those who downloaded the book did not read it.104 By 2008, HarperCollins and Random House were offering free online book content. Amazon was selling a $399 Kindle e-book reader for downloadable books costing $10 each, but Apple CEO Steve Jobs described the Kindle as something that filled no void and would “go nowhere.” Sales in electronic trade books increased from $5.8 million in 2002 to $20 million in 2006 compared to total 2006 book sales of $25–$30 billion. Borders was market testing the downloading of digital purchases. Tim O’Reilly, coiner of the term Web 2.0, had been urging publishers to go digital since the early 1980s, but publishers and authors were still concerned with how they would be paid for the intellectual property they created. Om Malik, senior writer for Business 2.0 magazine reported that the money earned from advertising clicks related to their blog content was barely enough to cover the costs of blogging. Flat World Knowledge, a new entrepreneurial digital textbook publisher, announced that in 2009 it planned to offer free online textbooks with the hope that the firm would make money selling supplementary materials like study guides. Publishers wondered how an industry built on a 15th century paper technology could make a profitable transition to a 21st century paperless electronic technology
1. Form into small groups in the class to discuss the future of Internet publishing.
2. Consider the following questions as discussion guides: What are the pros and cons of electronic publishing? What is the impact of electronic publishing on the environment? Should newspaper and book publishers completely convert to electronic publishing over paper? (The Wall Street Journal and others publish in both paper and electronic formats. Is this a success?) Would you prefer this textbook and others in an electronic format? How would you prefer to read the book? What business model should publishers use to make money publishing on the Internet?
3. Present your group’s conclusions to the class. DIS