- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2006

If what I’m seeing is any indication, we’re on the verge of some remarkable changes in the world of book publishing. And, it’s all coming from people who have access to computers, basic software programs and the Internet.

While many in the industry are awaiting the arrival of BookExpo America at the Washington Convention Center on May 19, some of the real excitement in publishing was on display yesterday.

SpiderWorks LLC, a Virginia-based firm, released “The Xbox 360 Uncloaked,” a look behind the scenes of the creation and launch of the Microsoft gaming computer, which broke as many hearts as it warmed last Christmas due to short supply.

The book is written by Dean Takahashi, a veteran technology reporter for the San Jose Mercury News whose work is respected by many in the industry. You can download an electronic version of the book for $14.95; if you want a printed copy, it’s $10 more. Details on the volume can be found at www.spiderworks.com.

But that print copy will come to you via Lulu.com, a print-on-demand book publisher in Morrisville, N.C. The four-year-old brainchild of Red Hat Inc. co-founder Bob Young, Lulu exists, the company says, “in order to foster a more open marketplace for intellectual property. … At Lulu there is no gatekeeper, no grizzled editor deciding what and who is worthy of reaching the marketplace.”

What that means to SpiderWorks and Mr. Takahashi is that they can set up a print book and not have to worry about warehousing, storage, shipping or any of the traditional elements of publishing. The electronic version is easy to download if one has a high-speed Internet connection. For print buyers, Lulu handles the heavy lifting.

Lulu is, as advertised, accessible to those who want to be publishers as well. If you want to publish a book in a 6-by-9-inch format, you can do so, either as a “perfect bound” paperback, a saddle-stitched booklet, a plastic-coil-bound book or one with hard covers, the latter with or without a dust jacket.

The firm charges a binding fee of $4.53 per copy for non-hardcover books, and $14 for a hardcover book without a dust jacket, $15 with a dust jacket, plus 2 cents per page for printing. For a 300-page book, that can mean a base cost of $10.53 to $21 for each copy, with no minimum order.

The technology is called print-on-demand, and unlike some other printing ventures, Lulu requires you to be your own editor, or noneditor as the case may be. Upload your book as a PDF file and you’re off to the races, but you must do your own layout and formatting.

Needless to say, SpiderWorks did those things for Mr. Takahashi; others can find freelance editors and designers through listings on Lulu.com.

As you might imagine, the books for sale via Lulu.com vary all over the lot in terms of subject matter and quality. Some, such as Mr. Takahashi’s Xbox tome, are very much like the commercially published books you would find at Barnes & Noble; others are, well, probably best described as “acquired taste” items.

Apart from that aspect, though, just imagine what the technology can do: It can make you an instant published author. Although you may or may not become the next John Grisham as a result, a once-exclusive playing field is now a whole lot more level.

Read Mark Kellner’s Technology blog at www.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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