BLOOMINGTON, Ind.--(ENTERTAINMENT WIRE)--Nov. 3, 1997--
1stBooks Champions Aspiring Authors, Bypassing ``Gatekeepers''
In this laid-back college community of 60,000 located in the wooded rolling hills of southern Indiana, an Internet-based company has emerged which could transform the publishing industry.
Recently, dueling lawsuits between Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble Inc., have drawn the headlines in the world of publishing.
The battle between Amazon.com and the traditional retail booksellers for visibility and primacy on the Web is just the latest skirmish in an ongoing struggle by retail booksellers to remake themselves.
But they are all contending for share of market in an industry that has changed only incrementally since Gutenberg invented moveable type: the retail sale of printed books.
Is it possible that publishing's future may be viewed on your home or office computer, at www.1stbooks.com?
At the very least, the entrepreneurs behind 1stBooks and its aptly-named parent, Advanced Marketing Technologies LLC, intend to give authors a new and inexpensive means of publishing and selling their works.
A NICHE PUBLISHER AND AN AUTHOR CHAMPION THE UNPUBLISHED
The founders are a somewhat unlikely pair: David Hilliard has made a comfortable living in niche publishing, providing printed directories for affinity groups such as college fraternities and sororities.
Hilliard's partner Tim Jacobs is a former financial services executive and frustrated author of children's books. Like thousands of other writers, he couldn't find an outlet for his works.
1stBooks is more than just a virtual store or another sales channel for the mega-publishers and mega-retailers. It is a vehicle which affords authors a means of inexpensively testing the market and self-publishing their works, without incurring the production expense of the so-called subsidy or ``vanity press.''
Ownership of the book or work product and control of its publication are important to authors, and in some cases even to their heirs. This issue has been a stumbling block for Web-based publishers. But 1stBooks appears to have hurdled that obstacle.
BECOME A PUBLISHED AUTHOR FOR LESS THAN $500
By structuring their site as a ``pay for service'' library, Jacobs and Hilliard make it possible for authors to ``publish'' their work and still retain full legal ownership and rights.
For less than $500, they will digitize an author's book and publish it on the Web, along with a ``digital book jacket.'' This ``virtual cover'' offers the prospective reader much the same information as a traditional book jacket: a cover design or illustration, a summary of the book and a biographical sketch of the author.
There is even a free two or three page excerpt from the text itself, for the potential buyer who might like to leaf through a few virtual pages before making a purchase.
``A typical book in the library can be purchased and downloaded for $5.95 to $9.95, less than the cost of most paperbacks. A few highly technical books are offered for as much as $25.00. As hardbacks, they would probably cost $50 or more,'' notes Hilliard.
The buyer can download the book electronically, and typically is offered a choice of formats. For authors who have gone the subsidized publishing route, the site also offers the opportunity of selling traditional bound copies of their books.
The site also offers authors full-service accounting and recordkeeping, as well as detailed marketing, customer tracking and prospect-to-sale ratio information. And authors receive a commission or royalty of 40% of the selling price, less any credit card fees, on each ``book'' sold.
THE DANCE OF PUBLISHING'S ``GATEKEEPERS''
Traditional publishing, by contrast, involves an often intricate dance among aspiring authors, literary agents and publishers.
``In this ballet, the literary agents are supposed to function as the authors' advocates, but they are often forced to serve as `gatekeepers' to the world of publishing,'' Jacobs notes.
Authors who successfully negotiate this first hurdle must still make it through the gauntlet of publishers' rejection notices. Despite the fact that more books are being published each year in the 90s than ever before, Jacobs estimates that fewer than 5% of all manuscripts are ever published.
``Some of those manuscripts which don't make it are truly offbeat, weird, tedious, offensive or just plain poorly written. In other cases, the works may be properly researched or documented, well crafted -- even beautifully written -- but condemned to obscurity because someone proclaimed them `not commercially viable,''' he adds.
``The beauty of this concept is that it is a pure market-driven approach. The author isn't at the mercy of the editor or the agent, or both, to determine whether there is a public for the work,'' Hilliard says.
THE SCHOLAR'S ALTERNATIVE TO COSTLY MICRO-PUBLISHING
The 1stBooks library also offers an attractive alternative for university presses, state and local history groups and literary organizations which seek to encourage and distribute works of scholarly significance but very limited audiences.
Investing $500 on ``virtual publication,'' as opposed to $10,000 or more on a ``micro-publishing'' press run, makes it possible for such organizations to encourage and underwrite the dissemination of more such works.
With ``virtual publication,'' the 1stBooks site neatly bypasses most of the expenses which go into the cost of publishing a book: overhead, printing, distribution, promotion and advertising, as well as returns of unsold copies are all eliminated or drastically reduced.
Jacobs contends that the 1stBooks concept offers benefits to literary agents and even to editors at traditional publishing houses. ``The industry secretly dreads the possibility that they might overlook the next Tom Clancy or Charles Frazier (bestselling author of ''Cold Mountain,`` this year's previously-unpublished fiction phenomenon), or worse yet, lose such an author to the competition,'' Jacobs states.
``We can offer the agent or the editor what amounts to a $500 market test, if they are willing to take advantage of the opportunity,'' adds Hilliard.
``Most of those who populate the business display an outwardly hard-bitten and cynical attitude which would cause Damon Runyon to rush to his typewriter with the inspiration for a new character. But the publishing world is full of people who work in the business primarily because they like being involved with books and authors, not because they want to get rich,'' Jacobs asserts.
``We offer an alternative they can propose to an aspiring author who would otherwise get nothing more from them than a pre-printed rejection letter. Those who really love books and reading will view us as a literary breakthrough.''
Advanced Marketing Technologies Tim Jacobs or David Hilliard, 812/339-6000 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or Marketrends, Inc. Larry S. Landis, 317/972-8522 E-Mail: email@example.com