Digital brings publish power to writers

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In a recent NY Times article, the power of digital media and worldwide distribution over the Internet got a thorough review. Plainly put, authors are already reshaping the rules on publishing. One author put his entire book on the Internet for free; nearly 20,000 downloads have put it into a circulation category greater than more than half of the world’s book authors.

Compensation for Yochai Benkler, a Yale University law professor, is another matter, but he thinks of it as

“an experiment of how books might be in the future.” That is one of the hottest debates in the book world right now, as publishers, editors and writers grapple with the Web’s ability to connect readers and writers more quickly and intimately, new technologies that make it easier to search books electronically and the advent of digital devices that promise to do for books what the iPod has done for music: making them easily downloadable and completely portable.

The Pulitzer winners, best-seller perennials and icons of fiction are howling about all this. But the unpublished author, who finds the eye of the publishing house needle growing ever smaller, well, they experience access to the world’s readers on the basis of their writing — not on the basis of how profitable it will make a publisher.

For unknown authors struggling to capture the attention of busy readers, however, the Web offers an unprecedented way to catapult out of obscurity. Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer who started a political blog, “Unclaimed Territory,” just eight months ago, was recruited by a foundation financed by Working Assets, a credit card issuer and telecommunications company, to write a book this spring. Mr. Greenwald promoted the result, called “How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values From a President Run Amok,” on his own blog and his publisher e-mailed digital galleys to seven other influential bloggers, who helped to send it to the No. 1 spot on before it was even published.

This Sunday it will hit No. 11 on the New York Times nonfiction paperback best-seller list. “I think people who are sort of on the outside of the institutions and new voices entering will be a lot more excited about this technology,” Mr. Greenwald said. “That’s one of the effects that technology always has. It democratizes things and brings in new readers and new authors.”

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