Why eBooks? Looking Back.
Bringing Nina Serrano’s poetry to the widest possible audience drew Estuary Press into publishing the Heart Suite trilogy as both print and eBooks. The difficulties using traditional distribution routes combined with the decline of book stores and the limitations of the print format with its great waste and impact on the environment opened me further to the possibilities of the eBook.
The challenge was to make the eBook itself right on my computer. It was a small step to begin using the resources of Estuary Press for a new purpose. Up to 2011, the main activity of Estuary Press had been the development of the Harvey Richards Media Archive. Since the turn of the millennium, the growth of the Internet challenged me to bring the photo and film collection into the digital era. I needed computers, scanners, software to do the job and a modern interactive web site to bring the films and images to the ever growing number users of the Internet which was becoming the hub of businesses of all kinds. The possibilities were staring me in the face.
Early in the 1980s as computers and the internet emerged, I imagined that one day I would have all the knowledge of the world in a little box on my desk. I soon realized that the box would not be a box of disks, or hard drives. It would be the computer itself with a connection to the internet. The internet not only brought the world’s knowledge to my desk, it also brought instant connectivity to every corner of the globe. As I stared into my computer screen, the world stared back at me.
The volume of information available online has grown exponentially. Large repositories of knowledge have become available like, for instance, through Project Gutenberg where you can find books online that are no longer copyright protected. Over the years, I watched books go out of print and become unavailable in bookstores or anywhere outside a random discovery in a used book store. Even though book stores are fast disappearing, today through the Internet, out of print books are coming back in droves. The number of books being digitized by large organizations, universities and government libraries is growing rapidly. At the same time, the number of people accessing the Internet has grown astronomically. According to the Global Internet Report, over 80% of the people in the US and Europe are internet users. Around the globe, internet users range from 94% in Sweden, Norway and Finland, to around 50% in China, South Africa, Kazakstan, and Brazil. Only 15% are on line in India, where computer businesses are having a global impact. And so far, no one controls the access portals. We can all contact each other anytime we want.
As the process of digitization of everything has expanded, the size of the memory and operating systems in personal computers has grown too. Computer prices have fallen and fallen. That little box on my desk keeps shrinking while its capacity keeps growing. Rapidly expanding computer capacity has opened the way for video and photography, for art and sound to take their place in the vast reserves of human knowledge and culture that can be dialed in with the touch of a button. Ordinary computer users have gone from consuming this vast and growing knowledge base to becoming producers of it. The computer is not particular. You can read on it and you can write on it. You can watch videos and you can add your own. You can even program it. It is up to you.
In the 1990s, Estuary Press set up its first web site with the domain estuarypress.com. Responding to the continued interest in licensing Harvey Richards images for use in the media, I had created a web site using consultants who knew the coding and HTML languages of the World Wide Web. It was a static website offering a few photos from the Harvey Richards collection with contact information. Every time I wanted to change it, I had to call the consultants, a process I could not afford. The web site sat in the shadows for several years.
In the 2000’s, I discovered WordPress web site software which offered web site construction without the need to use coding or HTML languages. After some very helpful seminars at Techliminal in Oakland, I became a web site publisher and transformed my old static web site into an interactive WordPress site. I built it directly from my computer at home. There was no expense for consultants, beyond occasional visits from Pieter Hartsook who helped me put it all together and tutored me in the process. Now I had direct control of content and images and could change things instantly. The Nina Serrano web site came into being as a direct result of all these developments. The Estuary Press web site branched off from Harvey Richards Media Archive and now there were three web sites.
One of the first projects for the new Harvey Richards Media Archive web site was creating short movie clips from all 22 films that my father had made. I put them up on YouTube with its free video uploads that allowed me to embedded them on my web site pages. I learned video editing and how to handle big files. Then I made web pages for each film and embedded the clips on the page to offer viewers preview clips and tell them something about each film.
The next project was adding thousands of Harvey Richards’ still photos to the website. Harvey shot photos with 35 mm and 120 mm cameras so I had to scan both sizes of negatives. Early in this process, LeRoy Chatfield, and his Farmworker Movment Documentation Project arranged to professionally scan several hundred slides from the Harvey Richards collection, sharing the scans with me. I then acquired scanning equipment and continued the digitization of the Harvey Richards’ photo collection at my desk. The result was Harvey Richards Media Archive Photo Images web page with its more than a thousand photos arranged in galleries by subject. This, more than anything else, brought me to the idea of publishing eBooks.
The internet transformed self publishing from what was known as “vanity press” to what it is today when the gatekeepers of publishing have been pushed aside and the gates flung open to everyone’s creativity. I joined the rush into eBook publishing at first to see how it worked. To see if I could do it with just my PC computer, scanners, and the phone line that comes into our house. And indeed, I could, and so can anyone else who puts their mind to it. Creating eBooks is a variation of creating web sites. The difference is that eBooks are smaller and their purpose is narrower. Still, by the time the new interactive WordPress web sites were up and functioning, all the tools and most of the skills needed to create eBooks were in place.
While eBooks are the digital form of the ancient book we all know and love, they don’t require paper which spares our trees and helps preserve what is left of our forests. eBooks have an infinite shelf life, available online forever. And they can travel the globe without an ounce of gas being burned. The weight of 1000 eBooks on a reading device is the equivalent to the weight of one molecule. How could I not do it?