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COMMUNET  April 1993, Week 5

COMMUNET April 1993, Week 5

Subject:

File #1

From:

"David H. Rothman" <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

27 Apr 93 21:02:19 EDT

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (747 lines)

**************************************************************************
 
                   TO READERS OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES
        My proposal below calls for digitized libraries that eventually
would be affordable to many individuals, not just to rich people
and wealthy nations.
        Except for this added note, you are receiving the same
material that I have posted on U.S. networks.
        I am aware of projects to digitize material for national libraries in
English, France, and elsewhere; but in many ways, my TeleRead proposal for
the United States goes further than most other plans do. Other countries may
want to adapt and adopt some ideas here.
        Among other things, the plan tells how the U.S. could promote the
manufacture of *inexpensive* computers that were far more powerful than
those little terminals in France's Minitel program. Such machines
would be especially designed to encourage reading and even promote literacy.
        The TeleRead plan also tells how to combine a central database with
America's existing system of public libraries. Thousands of experienced
librarians could help choose books.
        In yet another twist, I have devised ways to assure fair compensation
of authors and publishers so that most creators of books are actually *better*
off than before. I am even allowing for Wall Street to be able
speculate in expected dialup fees.
        Also, I suggest that books are more valuable than television; and I
advocate a national TV tax to finance the start of TeleRead, rather than
simply pay for more television programs. TeleRead would not kill
off televison. It would simply promote and help preserve books,
which can convey details and emotions beyond the realm of the
electronic media. TeleRead, of course, could also spread educational
software, though I myself see the written word as the main
priority.
        I conceived TeleRead to help narrow the information gap between
"haves" and "have-nots" in the United States, but along the way, other
countries could benefit too. For example, I propose that the U.S.
require all new books to be digitized to qualify for copyrights. That could
make it easier for nations to sell whole libraries to each other someday.
        At the same time, TeleRead might offer some hope for developing
nations without well-financed library systems at present. I suggest that
in the future the United States should help other countries replicate the
TeleRead program and stock their libraries with their own books, too, not
just those from the U.S. and other wealthy nations. Certainly, of course, I
see developing countries selling books and other material to Western countries,
 not just *buying*.
        Also of interest outside the United States, TeleRead offers Americans
an alternative to high U.S. tariffs on imported computer products.
        True, I suggest that TeleRead promote the production of American-made
laptops for the program itself; and, of course, the integration of
TeleRead into the U.S. public school system would make American workers more
competitive and prosperous. No, I won't hide my own concerns as an
American. However, TeleRead would help developing countries just
as much in the end:
        1) The overwhelming majority of the U.S. laptop market would remain
open to all--and, in fact, would be much bigger than if TeleRead were not
around to spur demand for the technology.
        (2) The program would drive down the cost of the technology for
everyone eventually, so that the whole planet would benefit.
        (3) TeleRead could even be a bargaining point in intellectual property
negotiations between wealthier countries and developing nations.
Rich countries might help poorer nations set up TeleRead systems in return for
true protection for intellectual property. Nations could be site-licensed for
books or for even whole libraries, just as software is site-licensed
today at large corporations. Or perhaps dial-up fee arrangements, audited by
an international agency, could be worked out. Without TeleRead treaties,
massive piracy of books might occur someday over international computer
networks; in fact, this is already happening in the world of software. What's
more, optical character recognition is declining in price, and without
TeleRead treaties, even nondigitized books will be bootlegged en masse
someday. So if wealthy nations are rational, they will negotiate TeleRead
treaties with developing countries.
        (4) While respecting property rights--and, indeed, protecting them
better than 100% technologically based copy-protection schemes--TeleRead
provides a paradigm for every nation interested in making books and
educational software affordable to all.
        (5) The same paradigm could also benefit people in many countries by
thwarting censors and increasing the range of available books and
ideas. TeleRead, for example, encourages the *decentralized* purchase of books
for national databases. What's more, the approval of librarians would not be
needed for publication per se. In an era of rapidly falling prices for mass
storage, the plan proposes that virtually all books should go online--*and*
qualify for compensation if enough readers dial them up. Yes, yes,
TeleRead also allows for readers to narrow their choices to avoid being
overwhelmed.
        (6) The TeleRead paradigm would make it impossible for one
nation (or racial or ethnic group) to obliterate the memories and culture of
another. No one could burn down somebody else's national library. In the United
States, experts talk of the time when the whole Library of Congress could
be on one computer chip. If nothing else, read-only backups of TeleRead-style
databanks could exist in many places--one way, too, to protect against computer
viruses.
        There will be as many variants on the TeleRead idea as there are
readers of this proposal. I would hope, however, that most readers would
agree with me about our present copyright laws, national and
international. They are obsolete in this in this network era. I vaguely
recall the old movie in which women strolled on the moon carrying umbrellas.
Today's copyright laws are about as appropriate as the parasols.
        We must change them to provide true protection for creators, while at
the same time making books and other material affordable to all.
        --David H. Rothman
        Alexandria, Virginia, USA
        [log in to unmask]
 
******************************************************************************
 
                      TELEREAD: HOW ELECTRONIC BOOKS
                       COULD COST LESS AND BE EASIER
                          TO READ THAN PAPER ONES
        Vice President Gore has long championed electronic books--a fine
cause. But how much will books, educational software and other material
cost the average American family to dial up?
        And is there a way to build millions of inexpensive computers with
sharp, viewable screens that would be *easier* to read than books?
        Technology is destiny. What's our destiny, though, if video stores are
everywhere but half the school libraries in California have closed since
1982?
         Here is a proposal addressing those issues--an expanded version of my
article in the April 4 Washington Post Education Review.
       -- David H. Rothman,
          Alexandria, VA
          April 27, 1993
 
        Updates: (1) Greg Simon, Al Gore's domestic policy advisor, recently
forwarded the TeleRead proposal to the Office of Science and Technology Policy
for consideration. (2) Michael Dirda, the steel-town native whom I mention in
my argument *against* "Knowledge Stamps," has just won the Pulitzer Prize for
literary criticism.
 
*******************************************************************
 
                             TABLE OF CONTENTS
        --TeleRead: How Electronic Books Could Cost Less and Be Easier to
Read than Paper Ones. By David H. Rothman.
        --Who Wins and Who Loses if Online Libraries Are Affordable? Students
and teachers could be winners. On the other hand, some Washington
think-tankers might not fare so well.
        --Stamping Out Curiosity: The Trouble with Pay-Per-Read and "Knowledge
Stamps."
        --Nine Myths--and Responses. TeleRead should appeal to many parents,
educators, researchers, librarians,  writers, editors, software developers
and, yes, enlightened publishers of books; but the pay-per-read gang will
hate it. Here are arguments and counter-arguments.
        --The Origins of TeleRead. TeleRead is not a group, just one writer's
idea.
        --Acting on the Idea. Why you should *not* fax or e-mail the White
House or your local member of Congress.
        --How to Reach Me (David Rothman). Please reply directly to me or
rather than to the network IDs of the people posting this file.
        --Copyright Information. Alas, TeleRead doesn't exist yet, and
cumbersome copyright laws do. So please read the notice at the end of this
file if you want to publish this proposal on paper--yes, the old-fashioned
way--or print long excerpts from it. You are free to distribute the
material online and pass out disks with the TeleRead file.
        --Addendum One: Is Bridgeport the Future? Without TeleRead, what
happens when cities slash library funds?
        --Addendum Two: An African American Reflects on TeleRead and Affordable
Books. By William R. Murrell of MurrellBoston Telesis (Compuserve 71521,2516;
Internet: [log in to unmask]; GENIE HOSB Advisor: W.Murrell1).
 
************************************************************************
 
                      TELEREAD: HOW ELECTRONIC BOOKS
                       COULD COST LESS AND BE EASIER
                          TO READ THAN PAPER ONES
                            By David H. Rothman
        The Kid Next Door helped confirm the big bang theory. He was no longer
T.K.N.D. of course--rather, a bearded professor of astronomy--but I could
still see him as a gangly child perusing his father's physics journals. Ned
was always a reader. Even before he could puzzle out words on paper, he was
begging his mother to read to him about internal combustion engines. Years
later he relied on public libraries, not just the local junkyard, when he
built his first telescope. Luckily for science, Dr. Edward L. Wright grew
up in affluent Fairfax County, Virginia--not in Harlem or Watts, where the
libraries were wanting and where he could never have found those arcane
journals.
        We just cannot say where potential Wrights will show up. Given current
demographics, more will have to come from ghettos, barrios and other
book-short areas. Suppose, however, that we live out an old dream of
hackers and librarians. What if computers can drive down the cost of
providing books to African Americans, Hispanics, Appalachians and, yes,
Fairfax Countians?
        Already politicians have proposed online libraries. In the Scientific
American of September 1991, for example, Al Gore wrote: "We have the
technical know-how to make networks that would enable a child to come home
from school and, instead of playing Nintendo, use something that looks like
a video games machine to plug into the Library of Congress." A technology
plan, unveiled February 22 in Silicon Valley, helped confirm the White
House's interest in computer networks for the masses. With Bill Clinton
looking on, Gore even summoned back his high-tech child.
        Questions, however, abound. How much will it cost average Americans to
dial up books, articles, government records, phone directories and other
material? And what about Al Gore's mythical child? Just how many books will
he or she be able to retrieve without impoverishing the whole family? Will
middlemen make killings at the expense of the rest of us? If commercial
databases are any clue, the news will be bad. Extensive online research on
just one topic can cost hundreds of dollars today, a real burden for
students or small business people.
        What's more, special databases for education would not be the final
answer, even if they were free. The Edward Wrights of this world need all
kinds of information, not just facts from designated journals. Except for
proprietary material, we should put almost everything online for Americans
to dial up for free or at little cost; and reading-computers should be
affordable to potential users of online libraries.
        Technology is destiny. What's our destiny, though, if video stores are
everywhere but half the school libraries in California have closed since
1982? Even the libraries in Fairfax County, the ones where young Wright
read about the galaxy, have cut back their hours.
        Pollyannas rejoice that private enterprise will take over from
underfinanced public institutions, and that business people will make
billions off an enlarged information industry. As a country, though, we can
never grow richer just by selling bits and bytes to each other. Real
wealth--for example, 100-miles-per-gallon automobiles, cures for cancer and
a well-informed electorate--will come from how we use information. The
fewer price tags on knowledge, the more wealth created.
        Let me, then, propose a three-part plan, TeleRead, which would help
students, other readers, writers and the American computer industry, too.
 
I. Impose a Five Percent Tax
on TV-related Sales
        Many foreign countries tax television in one way or another. Why
shouldn't the United States? And why can't we use the money to promote the
activity with which television so often competes: reading? Extrapolating
from Commerce Department and industry figures, we could collect more than
$3.5 billion a year for TeleRead if we imposed five-percent taxes on cable
revenue, advertising sales of TV stations, and retail sales of new
television sets and other video products such as blank and recorded tapes.
When TV-computer hybrids arrived, they would be taxed, too, unless the were
clearly suitable for reading books online.
        The television taxes would hardly bankrupt consumers. You would pay
the equivalent of just $3.50 annually if you kept a $350 set for five
years. That's less than half the amount you might spend on a large pizza to
eat on Super Bowl Sunday. If too many small merchants complained about new
paperwork, the government might instead collect at the wholesale level.
        Unlike many taxes, this one would directly benefit millions of
Americans. Go to typical suburban public libraries on weekends, and you
will see crowds of frugal citizens borrowing books to improve themselves
professionally. Some college texts can cost $75 or more. Reeling from local
property taxes, even some of the most rabid tax-haters might champion
TeleRead as a way to slash the cost of buying books for local libraries and
schools.
 
II. Make Powerful, Affordable Laptops Available to All
        The student-computer ratio in American public schools is about 16-1;
imagine a bureaucrat at Agriculture or Exxon sharing a PC with 15
colleagues. So let's use part of the $3.5 billion a year to help subsidize
a long-range program to buy laptops that schools and libraries can lend to
students and the public at large. Eventually the schools could even give
away "TeleReaders" to many students from low-income families. By
encouraging mass production, the TeleRead program would make laptops almost
as cheap as calculators, so that middle-class children could buy them
without any subsidies. The procurement program would award contracts in
stages, of course, to avoid locking into outdatable technology.
        Using TeleReaders or substitute machines, students would learn
word-processors, swap electronic mail, and work with personal databases,
spreadsheets and other applications, such as educational programs.
Especially, however, TeleReaders would encourage reading, the most vital
skill. They would be small and affordable and boast sharp, American-made
screens that you could read more easily than you could a paper book.
        The screens would be flickerless; and you could adjust the size and
style of the type, and perhaps the screen colors, too. If you wanted, you
might even detach a TeleReader keyboard and curl up in bed with just the
screen. You could move on to another "page" or reach another chapter
by pressing a button or by touching the appropriate part of the screen with
a pen-like device. The same stylus could let you jot notes electronically,
or underline or highlight key paragraphs.
        Different TeleReaders might serve different needs. Some machines, for
example, might be able to read material aloud and highlight the spoken
words on screen--one way to help bring books to the very young, the
vision-impaired and the semi-literate. Voice recognition could pick up
commands from the handicapped. Sooner or later, some TeleReaders could take
dictation; users could write in corrections with the stylus.
        Since the screens on TeleReaders would be so good, you would not need
to print out books or magazines. Why clutter up your house? If need be,
however, TeleReaders could work with low-cost computer printers.
        TeleRead wouldn't just supply laptops or promote the production of
them. The program could also make certain that machines were used regularly
and well--it could help pay the salaries of computer instructors to bring
teachers and librarians up to speed. Let's not turn teachers into
programmers, however. Rather, instructors could show teachers how to apply
high-tech effectively to their respective disciplines. Teachers in the
future should be able to tell students how to write clear, well organized
prose with a word-processor, use spreadsheets, dissect electronic frogs,
retrieve facts on a proposed national budget, or send e-mail notes to local
members of Congress.
        While helping education most of all, the TeleRead program would be a
boon to Silicon Valley and other high-tech areas hit by defense cutbacks.
Flat screens, new kinds of memory chips, and other technologies would grow
more attractive to our oft-skittish venture capitalists. TeleRead would not
ban the use of foreign parts or ideas, but within reason would favor
laptops with a high American content. Simply put, TeleRead would be a sane
alternative to the mindless tariffs that the United States slapped on some
foreign-made screens for laptops.
        Moreover, since the government would buy finished equipment,
Washington wouldn't be setting up a massive research and development
bureaucracy. Rather, the taxpayers could benefit from competition for
TeleRead contracts.
 
III. Set Up a National Database
As Soon as Possible
        TRnet, part of the TeleRead program, would offer an electronic
cornucopia. Like most public libraries, it would avoid pay-per-read. TRnet
would be free or would charge reasonably for an annual subscription based
on family income, and perhaps included as an option on federal tax forms.
The poorest Americans, of course, should be able to dial up TRnet without
paying a penny. Think of the I word, consider TRnet an investment in our
economic and intellectual development, and use general revenue money to
make the network affordable to all.
        Reachable from anywhere in the U.S., TRnet would carry the full texts
of all new books and other publications. How? All material longer than
10,000 words, and intended for publication, would have to be in digital
form before the government would grant copyrights. The government could
phase in this change quickly with a voluntary program. As for undigitized
material shorter than 10,000 words, scanners could pick up the images,
either for conversion to computer text or as pictures to be dialed up on
TRnet.
        To transmit books and other material, TRnet could use old-fashioned
phone lines, fiber optic cables, radio or cable television
connections--whatever cost the least. The Great Gatsby could reach you in a
fraction of the time it took to watch a rerun of "I Love Lucy."
        Before you hooked into the network, you would answer a series of easy
questions to pinpoint exactly what you needed. you might punch in the name
of an author, dial up the network and instantly get a list of all of his or
her works, with quick descriptions. Then your TeleReader would disconnect
you from the network. At your leisure, without tying up the phone lines,
you would go on to choose which books you wanted sent into your computer
when you logged on a second time.
        You could select not only by author, but also by publisher, editor,
general category, subject, search words, geographical setting or other
criteria. If you keyed in "Washington" and "novels," you would see
everything from Democracy to Washington, D.C. Or suppose you added the word
"black literature"; then you could call up Afro-American fiction from the
local writers. Inner-city teachers could easily track down books that meant
thousands of times more to bright teenagers than anything on television. in
fact, they could tailor reading assignments to individual children.
        Electronic indexes needn't be the only technique with which
TeleRead might eventually direct users to the right material. Via hypertext,
you could highlight a word or phrase and be referred to another place
in a text, or even to another book or article. Or you might use
intelligent agents, sometimes described as electronic butlers.
       Intelligent agents could prowl networks, looking for material of
greatest interest to you, even while you slept. As telecommunications costs
shrank, the agents could grow in importance. Certainly if we trusted
agent-style software to ferret out books for us, a centralized
subscription arrangement such as TeleRead would make more sense than a motley
series of collections from providers of often-pricey information. What if an
agent accidentally downloaded megabyte after megabyte of material from a
library that charged outrages fees? Or suppose an agent-created summary misled
you into thinking that an expensive ebook was much more valuable to you than
it actually was? A truly centralized TRnet would end such risks. (For a
clear explanation of intelligent agents, see Steve Levy's article in the
May 1993 issue of Macworld.)
        Although I have mentioned books and article in examples, TRnet
certainly would carry educational software, too, from which teachers and
students could choose the best programs for *them*. Math and science students
could especially benefit. And young immigrants could use software rich in
moving images and synthesized speech to help learn English. Normally,
however, TRnet would favor the written word, which is so often the best way
to pass on detailed instructions and convey abstract ideas and feelings.
        Whatever the medium, TRnet would pay fairly. Software houses or
independent programmers would receive fees based on the number of times the
public dialed up their creations. And the same arrangement could apply to
individual articles from newspapers and other publications. When writers
kept rights to the articles, then payment would go to them.
        TRnet would allow publications a delay--maybe two weeks for daily
newspapers and eight weeks for monthly periodicals--before the network
posted issues online for all to see. So publishers could still make profits
off paper versions or their electronic editions. The latter editions could
be highly customized for individual subscribers, just as some experts now
foresee; they could even offer interactive ads through which subscribers
could order merchandise.
        Newspapers and magazines could rely directly on phone companies and
cable systems to speed these current editions to paid subscribers, but
often TRnet might make more sense. Understandably, many newspapers see
phone companies as rival publishers. Suppose, however, that
telecommunications firms signed long-term contracts with TRnet; then the
network could act as a buffer between them and the newspapers that
subleased the lines.
        What about TRnet's compensation for professional writers of books--and
their publishers?
        Authors could sell to TRnet directly, or, armed with this new
bargaining power, they could sign contracts with publishers. Without heavy
production and distribution costs, publishers could pay far better. Under
TeleRead, writers and publishers would earn fees based on how often people
retrieved books. And as a mass purchaser of material, TRnet could pay
de-escalating royalties on best-sellers to discourage publishers from
overhyping "big" books at the expense of midlist titles. Publishers could
set advances by the expected number of dial-ups. Outside business people
could pay authors and publishers for rights to anticipated TeleRead money;
let Wall Street invest in literary futures.
        Yes, if TRnet gouged readers, then the public would bootleg books
electronically and cheat authors, publisher, and literary investors; but if
network use were free or low cost, piracy just would not be worth the
trouble. TRnet would actually safeguard literary property better than any
copy protection scheme that publishers might happen to be contemplating.
Even CD-ROMs are not safe. You don't have to be Sony to be able to copy
them. And the more powerful computers grow, the easier it will be to defeat
copy-protection schemes. Hackers love a challenge.
        To answer an obvious question, no, people couldn't type their names
over and over again, go on for 60,000 words, call it a book, and have their
friends dial it up at public expense. Anyone could post virtually anything
on TRnet; but professional librarians, each working within his or her own
budget, would help decide which works merited royalties. The librarians
would be at national, state and local levels. After a certain number of
dial-ups, almost any book or program could earn dial-up fees regardless of
the wishes of the librarians.
        Writers and publishers could also bypass librarians by gambling a
certain amount of money up front to reduce the number of dial-ups required
for royalties. The TeleRead laws might require TRnet to reserve maybe a
fifth of its budget for "bypass books," as I'll call them. By raising or
lowering the fees charged authors or publishers, the network could help
control the total bypass expenditures. Sharply de-escalating royalties on
best-sellers would also keep a lid on costs.
        That still leaves open the question of TeleRead's total expenses. To
be hypothetical, suppose we could immediately put all paper books and some
other material on TRnet. My estimates add up to $30.05 billion:
        --$10 billion for online books, which would be more appropriate than
the less than $5 billion that publishers most likely spent on writers and
editorial workers today. The $5 billion is my estimate based on a book
industry study and on informal talks with publishing authorities.
        --$0 for fresh editions of newspapers and magazines--including
academic journals--since TRnet would be a mere conduit.
        --$5 billion for past editions and old articles. That's a fifth of the
approximately $25 billion that American readers pay each year for
newspapers and the magazines, according to Commerce Department figures.
        --$50 million for articles and papers that TRnet bought directly. As
any professional writer or academic can tell you, some of the most valuable
writing will never find readers because it is outside the commercial or
academic formats of existing publications. Granted, thousands of Americans
would upload material to TRnet without counting on financial rewards. But
TRnet could at least hold out a slim possibility of pay.
        --$3 billion for educational software, or about three times the amount
that schools and families now spend if you extrapolate from statistics of
the Software Publishers Association.
        --$2 billion for computers for libraries, schools and some low-income
people, and some computer training programs for librarians and teachers. A
billion dollars could buy a million TeleReaders at $1,000 each, or,
eventually, 10 million computers at $100 each. Again, the idea is not to
give every American a machine, but rather to spur production of good,
affordable portables for reading.
        --$10 billion for staffers, telecommunications and leasing of computer
facilities. Many would consider the $10 billion to be far high. I've tried
to err on the cautious side. Staff costs would be low since TRnet would
rely heavily on existing librarians, who are already accustomed to choosing
books for public use. Telecommunications might well be the biggest cost.
Rather than squandering tax money on rapidly outdatable technology, the
government could rely on private phone companies. As much as possible,
TeleRead could take advantage of the nooks and crannies of existing
networks. The system might even offer bargain subscriptions to user willing
to dial up their books after regular business hours. Also, TeleRead could
lease private computer facilities to avoid technolock (technolock: n. A
tendency of many large bureaucracies to keep using antique equipment to
justify past investment).
        The hypothetical $30.05 billion total is about two percent of the
federal government's 1993 budget, or around half a percent of the Gross
Domestic Product. What's more, the actual first-year expenses of TeleRead
would be in the hundreds of millions, and perhaps much less. Only a
minority of Americans would sign up in the beginning if we limited the
first users to specialized books and articles of a scientific, technical,
medical or educational nature. TV taxes and modest subscriptions
fees--maybe $50-$100 per year for an average family--would pay entirely for
this scaled-down program.
        TeleRead, then, needn't come to life full grown. At the start, it
could even send surplus TV tax revenue back to the U.S. Treasury. Let a
lean TeleRead sell itself; and then support will quickly grow for a
full-service system that can give the Wrights all the books they needed.
        Of course, TeleRead and its TRnet should be just one option for
readers. We should still be able to buy electronic or paper books from
publishers, stores and authors. That would be one way to cope with the risk
of censorship by officious politicians (another way would be to make
TeleRead an independent agency with long-range funding).
        Also, TRnet must not compromise privacy. If the program charged
nothing or just flat subscription fees, there would be no need to keep
permanent records on the reading choices of individuals. When you retrieved
a controversial political work--in fact, anything--your machine would tell
TRnet to pay the author or publisher. But the central computers would be
programmed to forget your personal selections in a week or two. TRnet would
keep the temporary records only as a way to guard against constant dial-ups
by those profiting off them.
        What's more, for the really worried, private companies such as Barnes
& Noble could set up vending machines that would accept old-fashioned,
untraceable paper money as well as credit cards. The machines would copy
books onto a tiny memory card that plugged into your computer and held many
volumes.
        Bearing bright logos, such machines could be a fixture at malls,
airports and other public areas. They could serve both the privacy-minded
and people who just did not want to become regular subscribers (revenue
would go both to TRnet and operators of the vending machines).
        As a rule, however, TRnet itself would be the best, most economical
way to spread the written word. Without it, students, teachers, and other
Americans may never be able to read so much and so cheaply by way of one
easy-to-use database.
        "This program would benefit average students as well as gifted ones,
and it would better prepare Americans for work in an information-dependent
society," says Dr. Vicki Hancock, an educational technology expert at the
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development in Alexandria, Va.
        Skeptics might dismiss TeleRead and its TRnet as socialistic; but they
are not, any more than a public library. If Andrew Carnegie--the
19th-century capitalist extraordinaire--were alive today, he would be
probably be funding demonstration projects, just as he helped small-town
libraries across  the United States, hoping that ambitious Americans could
use the technology of the day to better themselves.
 
David H. Rothman is the author of  The Complete Laptop Computer Guide (St.
Martin's Press).
 
******************************************************************
 
                          WHO WINS AND WHO LOSES
                            IF ONLINE LIBRARIES
                              ARE AFFORDABLE?
        No, electronic books will not make all teachers and librarians go the
way of blacksmiths--quite the contrary. Even book chains might find new
roles. On the other hand, TeleRead could traumatic for some of the more
mediocre of Washington's think-tankers.
        Move ahead twenty years now; here's life in the TeleRead era.
 
Teachers and Students
        Humans in the classroom offer kindness and encouragement that silicon
chips can never replace. Teachers dial up TRnet to learn their subject
matters better. On paper and in classroom discussion, they demand more of
students--who can tap into the same databases.
        With so many books and educational programs to retrieve, teachers can
customize lessons for students with all learning styles. If high school
students show enough discipline, they can spend just several hours each day
in school.
        Students suffer less rote learning and fewer multi-choice exams.
TeleRead has revived the old-fashioned essay as a way to teach the research
skills and logical thinking that 21st-century workers need. Students modem
in their term papers. From elementary school on, they accustom themselves
to working off computer screens.
        At all levels, schools save billions on textbooks and have more to
spend on other resources and faculty salaries. And students at public
schools and state universities can retrieve the same books as those at prep
schools or Ivy League institutions.
 
Librarians
        Paper books remain on library shelves. But spending for new ones has
fallen off steeply. Librarians teach patrons to use TRnet, offer assistance
online and help the national program select book to post on the network for
royalties. The profession enjoys new power. Well-educated librarians play a
bigger role in determining the nation's reading tastes than do the
marketers at the large book chains.
        Compared to the past, today's librarians spend less on clerical duties
and more time judging the worth of potential acquisitions. Under pressure
from librarians with easy access to a wide variety of facts, book
publishers are diligently fact-checking their nonfiction.
 
Small Bookstores
        Book-loving proprietors still cater to traditionalists who favor
paper. But they also offer vending machines that can copy electronic books
onto memory cards owned by the customers. Even the bookstore owners will
not know the choices of customers who insert paper money into the machines.
        Some bookstore owners have become publishers or editors--sometimes
specializing in locally oriented books .
        Plenty of good clerks have remained behind to sell paper books, answer
customers' questions, and put out chatty newsletters online that draw
people into the stores to discuss books and meet local authors. Other
clerks have left the business and become literacy instructors, teachers or
editors.
        Bad clerks also are gone. They can make more money selling golf carts
or refrigerators.
 
Bookstore Chains
        Inferior chains have shut down. The better ones sell not only paper
books, but also TeleReaders with capabilities far beyond those of basic
models.
        Also chains have installed thousands of book-vending machines in their
stores and in public places.
        They offer electronic networks, too, for people who would rather not
deal directly with the TeleRead program. The program lets the chains enjoy
enough of a markup to make such efforts worthwhile.
        In addition, the smarter chains encourage their local stores to
imitate independent stores and publish online newsletters--and otherwise
serve the people of Albuquerque, Chicago or San Jose.
        Some chains may even want to become book publishers.
 
Book Publishers
        Editors have risen in importance in the book industry; sales reps and
marketers have declined. Perhaps 90-95 percent of professionally edited
titles qualify for royalties on TRnet; if they do not, the publisher can
pay to get them on the network as bypass books. All publishers enjoy
coast-to-coast distribution.
        Midlist works thrive. Publishers of all kinds have grown more
adventurous in their selections since they do not need to gamble fortunes
on paper, printers and warehouse space. They no longer worry about local or
federal governments taxing their back lists to the detriment of
non-best-sellers.
        Nor must publishers bow so often in the direction of the large book
chains.
        Thanks to TeleRead, the transition to electronic books
were less bumpy than publishers expected. When a voluntary
program started, some publishers even used TRnet as a way to test
the market for certain paper books. Now, of course, virtually all
books are available electronically.
 
Newspapers and Magazines
        Like paper books, traditional newspapers and magazines have not
vanished immediately, but sooner or later, most subscribers switch to
TRnet.
        Good reporters and editors thrive. Publishers must offer enticing news
and prose, or see startups take business away.
        Many old publications, however, are earning bigger profits these
days--since they spend less on paper, printing and distribution, and since
Americans are more word-oriented.
 
Writers of Books
And Articles
        Few have become millionaires; but thanks to TeleRead's de-escalating
royalty rates, the average writer stands a little more of a chance of
enjoying a middle-class income.
        Technical, scientific, and medical writers fare much better than
before. Instant publication allows books and articles to appear with fresh,
easily updated facts, spurring innovation in the fields about which the
authors have written.
        The big losers are best-selling authors who are better marketers than
writers.
 
Software Developers
        Small software houses can distribute their wares more easily than
ever--either for free or for very reasonable charges.
        Back in the 1990s, many Americans programmers were not that different
from writers. They came up with original ideas, but often had to pay too
much to middlemen.
        Now a programmer on a West Virginia hilltop can reach big urban
markets even if he (or she) lacks contacts with national software stores.
He needn't rely on the uncertainties of "shareware" distribution.
        TeleRead has been especially helpful to publishers of educational
software. No longer is bootlegging so major a threat.
 
The Elderly
        TeleReaders have sparked a boom in reading among older Americans. The
machines can vary the size and style of type to make reading as enjoyable
as possible for people with poor vision. Pleasant, synthesized voices can
read out anything.
 
The Disabled
        The bedridden can enjoy whole libraries. Affordable machines respond
to spoken commands and can take dictation. They make telecommuting--working
from home--far easier for the disabled.
 
Politicians and Bureaucrats
        Sleazes lose more elections; honest politicians do better. Average
Americans can easily use TRnet to scour government records, and also to
retrieve the precise wording of politicians' past promises. Voters can see
the words that the candidates themselves posted online. This is the norm.
It isn't just limited to the high-tech elite.
        What's more, via TRnet, people can write back to politicians and
bureaucrats at all levels of government, while knowing exactly which ones
to complain to. Do you want a traffic light near your intersection on the
George Washington Memorial Parkway? TRnet will bring you up to date on the
relevant laws and regulations, the accident rates, and whom you should
contact at National Park Service.
        TeleRead makes government more attentive than can push-button TV
plebiscites. If an obtuse GS-15 tells you to get lost, then you can whiz
copies of your correspondence to the newspapers and broadcasters, and if
journalists ignore you, then you might post your grievance on an electronic
bulletin board and organize other voters to pressure the bureaucracy.
Literary Agents and Lawyers
        Writers can publish directly on TRnet, but most pros continue to rely
on editing and promotion from publishers. Literary agents and lawyers are
still around to help authors negotiate with publishers and Hollywood.
        Also, TRnet is a good research tool for lawyers of all kinds, whom
private information services can no longer gouge. Lawyers and nonlawyers
alike can look up official explanations--in clear English--of local, state
and national laws. International Markets
        The United States helps other nations start their on TeleRead
programs, and negotiates agreements with countries where similar programs
exist.
        Via TeleRead, we create new markets for American books and can share
technical expertise with the Third World. At the same time, foreign
countries can develop their own electronic library systems--well-stocked
with indigenous literature. The TeleRead approach encourages cultural
diversity. Perhaps someday one TeleRead system will serve entire planet,
but not until more countries grant freedom of the press.
        Of course, even now, people in most countries can dial directly into
the American TeleRead system and thwart many a censor. Corporations
        Years ago, when TeleRead was proposed, some corporations saw the plan
as a budget-buster from Satan. Instead, however, it consumes just a tiny
fraction of our Gross Domestic Product and has added vastly to our national
wealth. The smarter CEOs realized that the best way to protect capitalism
was to be more flexible than the communists of Eastern Europe were. Now
employers of all sizes can benefit from computer-savvy workers who need not
be supervised constantly. This skilled workforce makes us a more
competitive nation.
        Other countries can tap into databases, ours or their own, but in no
other land is high-tech so integral a part of the educational system. Even
the poorest American children can grow up with TeleReaders. We were among
the few countries that could make a computer available to each child, one
way or another; and we took advantage of this.
        (For an example of what a well-educated workforce can accomplish with
high tech, read The Virtual Corporation: Structuring and Revitalizing the
Corporation for the 21st Century, written by William H. Davidow and Michael
S. Malone and published last year by HarperCollins.)
        What's more, TeleRead is a boon to many corporate marketers. With so
much information online for free, they can more easily anticipate national
and international consumer trends--by searching databases for patterns.
Good companies enjoy more business since consumers can dial up detailed
reviews of specific cars, woks, or washing machines. Badly run corporations
are failing faster as word spreads of inferior products or financial or
environmental scandals. Stockholders can dial into TRnet for past articles
on companies, large and small; markets are more efficient at rewarding
winners and punishing losers.
 
Religion
        TRnet is a dream come true for the Gideon Society and equivalents. The
Old and New Testaments, the Talmud, the Koran, and other major religious
works are online. Christian fundamentalists once worried about dial-up
pornography, but now rejoice that the new generation of young people is
more contemplative, less hedonistic, as books regain much of the influence
they lost to television.
        With so many books and educational software on TRnet, it is easier for
conservatives of all faiths to home-school their children or start private
schools without draining resources from the public education.
 
Volunteers
        Retired managers and executives use TRnet to tutor students and
consult with small business people from afar. An Electronic Peace Corps
lets Americans share technical and medical expertise with people abroad
(see my proposal in the Washington Post of Feb. 5, 1984, Page D5). Thanks
to the EPC, we can now learn of any AIDSlike epidemic long before it
threatens the United States (see International Health News, November 1987,
Page 4).
 
Anyone Displaced by TeleRead and TRnet
        No worker got a pink slip without plenty of warning; everyone knew
TeleRead was coming. With so many educational resources online,
career-switching is much easier. Although employers have eliminated useless
mid-management jobs, many ex-managers have re-established themselves as
consultants or master technicians. Washington Think-Tanks
        A few hacks at Washington think-tanks--not the true stars, but rather
the plodders who turned corporate propaganda into academic research--are
among the displaced. TRnet for them is a nightmare come true. Grubby high
school students and Idaho professors can now dial up the same arcane
information as our national elite can.
        Fresh Insights are more of a commodity. The outsiders can't go to
Washington cocktail parties and hear the latest gossip. But the more
diligent among them can dial up a number of databases in search of trends
invisible to the duller of the D.C. think-tankers.
                            *   *   *
        We now return you to 1993 and a more immediate prediction. Somewhere a
dutiful tanker will boot up his word-processor and write, "Fascinating
idea; but of course it will take decades to resolve the copyright issues,
and we'll all go broke and end up slaves of the Japanese if we even dream
of spending half percent of our Gross Domestic Product on TeleRead."
-D.H.R.
 
(Continued in next file)
 

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