Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Cyberbooks, by Ben Bova

This was NOT supposed to be my next review. Absolutely not! I owe at least two and maybe three reviews, depending on whether or not I have reviewed "One Drink" by Max Florschutz, and I forgot to check that a minute ago.
But I got ambushed. I hit the Baen website  just to see what was there, and saw this, and casually checked it out.


The book was published on 1/16/1989. Note that year: 1989. If it was PUBLISHED then, it was written in maybe 1987, maybe 1988. And it forecasts with SPOOKY accuracy some stuff about ebooks & their impact, nearly 30 years ago.
Okay, is that a big deal? Well, would you agree with me that the publisher who has MOST embraced ebooks is Baen? Yeah, that's right; they were WAY ahead of the curve on this. AND, the very, very first work that was published by Baen that was submitted to them electronically was a short story in the book 'Carmen Miranda's Ghost is Haunting Space Station Number Three,' and that was in 1985. So, would you then agree with me that only TWO years after the MOST ebook-friendly publisher had STARTED accepting e-submissions is pretty doggone early to be incredibly prophetic about ebook stuff?
I hope so. But let me give you a FEW examples of his prescient words. (Y'all ain't gonna BELIEVE this...)

This next is minor:
Instead of printing books on paper, you 'print' them on miniature electro-optic wafers, like the diskettes used in computers, only smaller. This device in my hand allows you to read the book. The screen here shows you a full page. It can show illustrations as well as printed material; in fact, the quality of the pictures can be made better than anything you can achieve with the printed page."
A bit more:
He touched the first keypad with his index finger. The screen sprang to life instantly, glowing with color to reveal the title page of Rain Makes Applesauce.
Carl let out the breath he had not realized he'd been holding in. It worked. It worked! He picked up the glowing box and offered it to Malzone, grinning. It looked much smaller in the sales manager's long-fingered, big-knuckled hands.
"What do I do?" Malzone asked.
"Just touch the green button to move ahead a page. Hold it down and it will riffle through the pages for you until you take your finger off. Then it'll stop. If you want a specific page, tap in the number on the little keyboard on the right." 
Another hint:
Sure, the reader—this device, here—is going to cost more than a half-dozen books. But once you own one you can get your books electronically. Over the phone, if you like. The most expensive books there are will cost less than a dollar!"
"Now wait a minute. You mean . . ."
"No paper!" Carl exulted. "You don't have to chop down trees and make paper and haul tons of the stuff to the printing presses and then haul the printed books to the stores. You move electrons and photons instead of paper! It's cheap and efficient."
For a long moment Malzone said nothing. Then he sighed a very heavy sigh. "You're saying that a publisher won't need printers, paper, ink, wholesalers, route salesmen, district managers, truck drivers—not even bookstores?"
"The whole thing can be done electronically," Carl enthused. "Shop for books by TV. Buy them over the phone. Transmit them anywhere on Earth almost instantaneously, straight to the customer."
WAIT+ gotta talk about the other stuff!
"Listen," Malzone said, his face growing serious. "I've been talking with my sales people, and I think you're in for some real problems."
"Yeah. Y'see, what you're doing with this Cyberbooks idea, basically, is asking the sales force to learn a whole new way of doing their job. It's kinda like asking a clerk in a shoe store to start selling airplanes to the Pentagon."
Carl felt puzzled. "But selling Cyberbooks will be easy!"
Malzone made a lopsided grin that was almost a grimace. "No it won't. My sales people are used to dealing with book distributors, wholesalers, truck drivers, bookstore managers. If I understand the way Cyberbooks is going to work, we're going to be selling directly to the customer."
"That's right. We eliminate all those middle men."
"You eliminate most of my sales force."
Just one more:
 "Eventually electronic books will replace paper books entirely, yes," replied Carl.
"I ain't worried about eventually," the old salesman said. "I'm worried about this coming season. What do I tell the distributors in my area?"
"As far as Cyberbooks is concerned, you won't have to deal with them at all. You can show the line directly to the bookstores. We can supply them from the office in New York, over the telephone lines, with all the books they want."
A hostile muttering spread through the audience.
"In fact," Carl continued, raising his voice slightly, "the bookstores won't have to order any books in advance. They can phone New York when a customer asks for a Cyberbook and we can transmit it to them instantly, electronically."
The muttering grew louder.
"In other words," said the old war-horse, "first you're gonna replace the entire wholesale side of the business, and then you're gonna replace us!"
Look, I'd really have to copy and paste the entire book to do this right. Do NOT take my word for it. Go to Baen and spend the five bucks to get this book. Then, read it.
And then I want all of you who are authors, publishers, whatever, to make BODACIOUS comments on this here book, and would you PLEASE tell me who the characters are supposed to represent? Is this just ALL made up, or is Bunker Books really Baen Books, and Webb Publishing  really Tor, or WHAT?

I got the book at Baen, but I'm reviewing this on Amazon as well. They don't have the ebook, which Baen has, but they have hard copy.

I normally write brilliant reviews, but in this case, the book speaks for itself, plus I have struggled with insomnia, so MY writing may be boring. I don't care, I HAD to clear this of before I wrote anything else.
So there....

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