Making Book S6: disContent, The Complete Collection

To quote from the preface:

I’m not quite sure how I got started reviewing title CD-ROMs, but that start is directly relevant to the history of “disContent.” I wrote a series of columns in CD-ROM Professional under the title “CD-ROM Amateur” from 1995 and 1996; that became “CD-ROM Corner” in Database in 1996, continuing through 1999. In mid-1999, Database became EContent—but the column continued.

In 2000, it was obvious to all concerned that a column composed primarily of title CD-ROM reviews had run its course, both because it didn’t really fit EContent and because the stream of title CD-ROMs was drying up. I discussed possibilities for the future with Marydee Ojala, then editor of EContent. I’m not sure whose idea it was, but we came up with “disContent,” which replaced “CD-ROM Corner” in 2001.

“disContent” had the same relationship to the rest of EContent as “CD-ROM Amateur” did to the rest of CD-ROM Professional: An outsider’s voice in an industry publication. EContent’s design and editorial staff chose a raised fist as the logo for “disContent”—perhaps more adversarial than I like to be, but it seemed fine to me.

“disContent” was a two-page column in every issue of EContent (11 issues per year) from 2001 through 2003. It changed to a one-page column in 2004—and started appearing in every other issue (typically five times per year) in 2006. It ended at the end of 2009.

The editors at EContent never told me what to write about and did a fine job of improving the manuscripts I sent them. I think there may have been one case where an editor found a column less than satisfactory (I had a substitute handy), but in general I had leeway to write about what I wanted.

I thought quite a few of the 73 columns held up very well in 2010. I’d republished a few of the early ones and, more recently, a couple of later ones in Cites & Insights. 

As is typical for paid magazine writing (as opposed to cough scholarly journal writing cough) the magazine purchased very limited rights–first serial publication with a three-month period of exclusivity, basically. I owned the columns.

I was thinking of doing a selected anthology of the columns most relevant in 2011 and beyond. Somehow, that didn’t happen.

But I also had a brilliant idea: Why not try out the “freemium” idea some pundits have proclaimed as the future of media? Offer something special, distinctive, limited, for people who support what you’re doing, to make it easy for them to pay.

Thus the November 1, 2010 announcement of this book: a 314-page hardcover including a preface, all 73 of the columns (each with a postscript updating or commenting on the column) in chronological order, including a few that I’d just as soon forget, a very limited index, and my autograph, signed as part of the title page. About 88,000 words in total. It cost $50, of which I got about $24. Oh, and I’d only sell it until 100 copies were sold or four months had passed, whichever came first. (I got confused and changed four months to five, not that it made much difference.)

A Brilliant Success

The “freemium” idea succeeded…well…let’s say the response wasn’t overwhelming. Without revealing the actual sales, I’ll say that the total has a single digit and my net revenue had two digits (but high two digits).

In the process of basically failing, I reduced the maximum number of copies to 50, promised that there would not be a selected edition (so I guess there won’t be), and also said I wouldn’t republish more than a quarter of the columns in C&I. And, true to my word, took the book out of print on April 1, 2011.

It’s a beautiful hardcover book with a great paddlewheel picture on the wraparound cover (not the same paddlewheel picture as the 2012 Cites & Insights annual. Including my own copy, five copies were produced. I hope the four buyers enjoy theirs.

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