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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.