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Apple is releasing its highly anticipated tablet computer today, the iPad. Bet youve heard about that. The sleek device has a 9.7 inch touch screen and no keyboard. The iPad will offer access to all the usual entertainment available from iTunes music, movies, TV. But for the iPad, Apple has added books to its offerings.
As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, the iPad may boost the burgeoning market for self-publishing.
LAURA SYDELL: Writer Mark Morford was a shoe-in for a book contract with a major publishing house. He has 50,000 readers for his provocative column for the San Francisco Chronicle Web site. He took on the recent controversy around school text books in Texas with a column called "Dear Texas, Shut Up. Sincerely, History."
Morford pitched a book of his writings.
Mr. MARK Morford (Columnist, San Francisco Chronicle ): And I encountered a lot of excitement for the book. Agents and publishers alike said yes, this is a great idea, we like it.
Mr. MORFORD: They all said the same thing. They sent this warning to me saying, the book deal, as you know it, is not what it used to be.
SYDELL: What it used to be was a nice fat advance and a paid-for tour to bookstores around the country with stays at swanky hotels.
Mr. MORFORD: That whole idea has sort of vanished; has sort of gone away. There is no more marketing money.
SYDELL: Morford began wondering if he should bother with a publishing house at all, especially since there's a burgeoning number of companies that will publish your book in print or any other format for a small price. He went with BookMaster.
Mr. MORFORD: So they say, of course, we can do an e-book version, we can do a Kindle version, we can do the Pedia, whatever the iPad format coming out is going to be, I can probably do that as well.
SYDELL: Morford figuring he's got a core of fans and a column, so he can do his own marketing. He's hoping to follow in the footsteps of author Tim Chou.
Chou couldnt be more different from Mark Morford. He's a geek. His recent book is called "Cloud," and he's not talking about the white fluffy kind.
Dr. TIM CHOU (Author, "Cloud"): It's about a fundamental - I would say the next fundamental shift in computing. Much like...
SYDELL: Not exactly a page turner for most people, but Chou gives talks and consults on the topic and there's an audience for what he does. He could have tried to find a traditional publisher, but he did the math.
Dr. CHOU: Let's take an arbitrary book that on the Internet retails for 25 bucks. Right? The author gets maybe one or $2 a book.
SYDELL: Chou found a self-publishing company called Lulu. They charge nothing up front and only print a book when someone buys one.
Dr. CHOU: In the Lulu context, that same book, I'm going to get 10 to $12 per book.
SYDELL: Chou says he has sold nearly 10,000 copies of his book through Lulu. Do the math, thats six figures.
He's the kind of author that the CEO of Lulu.com, Bob Young, imagined would profit from his company. Big companies can't make money on a few thousand copies, but Lulu can.
Mr. BOB YOUNG (CEO, Lulu.com): If the Internet, as a medium, allows us to connect each of us with everyone else, why can't I, as an author, get my book to my audience without having to ask the permission of the publishing industry?
SYDELL: Lulu helps authors hook up with an editor, if they need it. And it offers design templates and marketing advice. Author Chou couldnt believe how simple it was.
Dr. CHOU: In essence, if you can create a word document, you can create a book. It's just about that simple.
SYDELL: Lulu books are available on e-readers like the Kindle. But now the iPad may grow the market for e-books by making them more appealing. IPad books will be in color and have interactive features like videos and links to related web sites.
If digital books really take off, Michael Shatzkin, who consults with publishers about digital books, thinks self-publishing is going to get a boost.
Mr. MICHAEL SHATZKIN (Publishing Industry Strategist): The biggest thing that a publisher provides is the ability to put physical copies of books on bookstore shelves. And as that becomes a less important component of the overall commercial proposition, the leverage that the publisher has or the reason that an author would have to go a publisher seriously diminished.
SYDELL: Self-publishing companies are even starting to draw established authors like John Edgar Wideman. He won the prestigious Pen Faulkner Award for fiction twice and one of those MacArthur Genius grants. Wideman's work deals with big, serious themes like race, class, alienation.
Recently, Wideman published a collection of short-short stories on Lulu out of frustration with traditional publishers.
Mr. JOHN EDGAR WIDEMAN (Author): Cookbooks and serious novels get the same treatment. Fighting for space in the chain stores that works for some kinds of books. But I don't think it works for fiction.
SYDELL: Wideman says if his first experiment works, he might try to publish an entire novel on Lulu.
Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
More writers are turning to self-publishing companies to get their work to readers, and the e-readers like the iPad may make the transaction even easier. Laura Sydell talks to authors who are bypassing traditional publishing companies.
The iPad, Apple's highly anticipated tablet computer, hit stores Saturday. The sleek, lightweight aluminum and glass device is equipped with a 9.7-inch touch screen and has no keyboard. The iPad has access to all the usual entertainment available on iTunes — music, movies and TV.
But along with the iPad, Apple is also launching its own digital book business. E-books on the iPad may help give the world of self-publishing a boost, authors and consultants say.
The Internet and new digital technologies have already opened up the self-publishing industry. Take a writer like Mark Morford. Ten years ago, if Morford had written a book, he would probably have sold it to a major publisher. He's got 50,000 regular readers for his provocative column on the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle. He took on the recent controversy around school textbooks in Texas with a column entitled "Dear Texas: Please Shut Up. Sincerely, History."
He also has a forthcoming book, The Daring Spectacle, a collection of his columns. Initially, Morford did meet with agents, and he had a lot of interest from traditional publishers.
"I encountered a lot of excitement for the book," he says. "Agents and publishers alike said, 'Yes, this is a great idea. We like it.' "
But the book deals they offered were not what they once were. There were no more big advances, and no national book reading tours with stays in swanky hotels. Morford says he was told, "That whole idea has sort of vanished, has sort of gone away. There is no more marketing money."
Morford began to wonder if he even needed a big publishing house. He looked around and discovered a burgeoning industry of companies that help authors publish their own books in any format they like, from the traditional printed book to e-books and Amazon's Kindle, and now for the iPad. Morford decided to publish with a company called BookMasters.
As Morford sees it, he's got a column and a core of fans, so he can do his own marketing. And if he needs an example, he can look to other successful self-published authors like Tim Chou.
Chou is pretty different from Morford. He's a geek. His recent book is called Cloud, and he's not talking about the fluffy white kind. Chou's book is about the future of online computing. Not exactly a pager-turner for most people.
Chou might have tried and succeeded in getting the interest of a traditional publisher, but after he did the math, he decided against it. He points out that on the Internet, the average book retails for $25. But, he says, "the author gets maybe $1 or $2 a book."
Chou found a company called Lulu.com that charges nothing upfront and will only print a book when someone buys one. But if they do, Chou says, "in the Lulu context, that same book, I'm going to get $10-12 per book."
Chou has sold nearly 10,000 copies of Cloud through Lulu. If you do the math, that means he's made more than six figures.
Lulu.com CEO Bob Young had authors like Chou in mind when he founded his company. Young saw that big publishing houses needed to sell tens of thousands of copies of a book to make a profit, whereas Lulu and its authors make money even when the company sells one book.
According to Young, the question that animated Lulu.com was, "If the Internet, as a medium, allows us to connect each of us with everyone else, why, as an author, can't I get my book to my audience without having to ask the permission of the publishing industry?"
Chou says Lulu made the whole process incredibly easy. "In essence," says Chou, "if you can create a Word document, you can create a book."
Lulu will also help authors find an editor if they need one, and it offers design templates and marketing advice.
Lulu books are available on e-readers like the Kindle, and they will be available on the iPad. iPad books will be in color and have interactive features like videos and links to related Web sites. Michael Shatzkin, who consults with publishers about digital books, says the iPad might make self-published books even more competitive with books from the big publishing houses.
"The biggest thing that a publisher provides is the ability to put physical books on bookstore shelves," Shatzkin says. "And as that becomes a less important component of the overall commercial proposition, the leverage that the publisher has or the reason that an author would to go a publisher is seriously diminished."
Self-publishing is even starting to draw established authors like John Edgar Wideman. Wideman, whose work deals with serious themes like race, class and alienation, has won the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award twice, and he was a recipient of a coveted MacArthur "genius" grant.
When Wideman put together Briefs, a collection of what he calls "microstories," he decided to experiment with a release on Lulu.com. In part, Wideman says, he was just sick of the way traditional publishers treated serious fiction.
"Cookbooks and novels get the same treatment," he laments. "Fighting for space in chain stores, that works for some kinds of books. But I don't think it works for fiction."
Wideman says if his first experience on Lulu goes well, he may use it to publish a full novel.