E-publish or perish

Move over Mr. Gutenberg -- Dallas Internet entrepeneur Patrick Seaman is hunting for the "killer app" to create the next revolution in publishing

With her 60 percent royalty split, she has to sell only around 800 copies before she can start collecting royalty checks. And that's far more likely to happen now that MightyWords has joined Barnes & Noble.

"People who are not cyber-savvy have never heard of MightyWords," Parker says. "But Barnes & Noble.com will dovetail me back to a more traditional audience."

Unless Stephen King can make e-publishing a trendy alternative, most writers, both veteran and novice, will still crave this traditional audience, and it's the traditional publisher who can still deliver it to them. That these publishers are now investing heavily in the Internet should seriously concern young start-ups like Timberwolf Press. A media monster like Time Warner brings both its brand and its content online. "If I were a start-up, I wouldn't want to go head-to-head with Time Warner right now," says agent Evan Fogelman. "It would be easier to start a new religion."

Patrick Seaman, founder of Timberwolf Press, believes that the future of online publishing has arrived.
Patrick Seaman, founder of Timberwolf Press, believes that the future of online publishing has arrived.
Patrick Seaman, founder of Timberwolf Press, believes that the future of online publishing has arrived.
Patrick Seaman, founder of Timberwolf Press, believes that the future of online publishing has arrived.

For a man whose publishing house has little content and even less brand awareness, Patrick Seaman is supremely confident. He articulates his business model for Timberwolf Press as if it will someday be the industry standard. He seems to know the answer to questions before they are even asked. When asked how he decided on the name Timberwolf, he goes into a diatribe about the turmoil in the publishing industry. "When you look at the entire entertainment industry--from film to music to books--it is full of strife," he says. "The timber wolf smells blood. We sensed opportunity."

But he refuses to admit that some of that blood may be his own, that he cannot play catch-up with the big boys of publishing, that he may be outflanked by e-publishers partnering with traditional publishing dollars. On the contrary, he believes traditional publishers should be worried about him. He has the flexibility to change and grow. They're the ones mired in the past, stuck with dinosaur corporate structures.

He says he learned from his years at Broadcast.com that "a plan is obsolete the minute it is implemented," that once put in motion, it must continually adapt and evolve. But he is sticking to his business model, at least for now. "I think this is a fresh approach on how to incubate and distribute multiple media across the spectrum from the print side to the electronic all the way to cable and film and any other media."

His model has no place for a vanity press--the "iSlushpile.com approach," he says, "that throws all this garbage up there for everyone to weed through. It won't take too many disappointments for people to give up on it." Timberwolf Press, however, will pay advances to its authors and will shortly have a full editorial staff in place--story and line editors, copy editors, proofreaders.

"Many e-publishers have no marketing plan for their authors," he says. "No connection between the consumer and this enormous pile of un-refereed material." Timberwolf authors will be promoted the traditional way: through advertising, promotional tours, book signings.

Seaman's way of building the Timberwolf brand is to offer episodes of its audio-book Webcasts for free. The costly sound stage he has built at Timberwolf will enable him to realize his plan of releasing a new episode of a different audio book every day. "Our Web site will be an entertainment destination, which will help us market our titles to other entities like TV and film," he says.

Whether Seaman has the taste and the talent to select the right content will be known only over time. In an industry where timing is everything and trends are over as soon as they are identified, a neophyte publisher needs more than a little luck. "It's one thing to know technology and quite another to know books," says agent Jim Donovan.

But questions about his literary intuition won't stop Seaman from setting his publishing goals high: 30 books this year, 60 the next, 90 the year after--hardcore science fiction, techno-thrillers, mystery--books that lend themselves to high entertainment, whose chapters are loaded with cliffhangers so they will hook the reader on the next e-episode. Real pageclickers.

In five years he plans on going public. But doesn't every Internet start-up?

And next year, after working on it since 1988, he plans on publishing his own book, Seed of Fear. And isn't that what e-publishing is all about anyway?

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