Can we call ’em or what?

Remember our incongruous, vaguely romanticized, and essentially ignored pæan to the superannuated guy rag Esquire and its online presence?

Well, we barely remember it, either. (Over here.)

Now the Hearst kids, led by Brendan Vaughan, who has no functioning E-address we can find (even webmaster@ and bounce), is releasing fiction in E-book format, namely Love and Murder. An anthology, in fact, which we guess corresponds to the conventional wisdom of E-publishing, where shorter texts work better. (Maybe.)

[Deputy Editor Peter] Griffin, who came up with the idea for both the anthology and the Summer Reading Issue E-book, worked with Vaughan over the summer to copy the stories from Esquire’s Quark-based publishing system into Word documents, as a pair of staff designers prepared artwork. The files were then E-mailed to Barnes & Noble’s digital content division, which converted the files into four commercial E-book formats for $500. The rest of the costs: $255 spent on registering ISBN numbers. “There was a not insignificant amount time spent working on this, though,” Griffin says. If Esquire does publish future E-book anthologies, Griffins adds that staff would have to be hired.

The rights questions are largely glossed over. Thank God for the deficiencies of U.S. copyright law, which permit wholesale anthologization without further permission, which Vaughan claims Esquire secured anyway. (A nice gesture. But might makes right, and Hearst can do what it wants in producing an anthology.)

Esquire editor David Granger blows his own horn, not without justification.

If you just look at the E-book as a machine, that’s really what it’s capable of: Providing a new format for telling stories. The reason we took the four main stories of our July issue and created this little E-book edition that came out three weeks before the magazine was because we thought that those four stories were uniquely suited to that tool. It provided a viable entertainment experience that the E-book, or, maybe to a slightly lesser degree, the Palm, can provide. Which is just like sitting there and reading something on a page and having the words drive you through to the end of it. A lot of it is guesswork – we’re doing it because we can, and we want to be in the game, and we want to see if it works – and it’s not all that expensive.

And so now we’re going to try to do it with a couple of anthologies. And again, one of my great frustrations is always that I’ll go back and read stuff that I edited where I was at GQ or my three years here, and it bugs me that it’s dead. Unless you go buy it on Contentville, it doesn’t have a life anymore. And some of the stuff is ... still relevant, beautiful, great works of American journalism. And I’d like to give them a new life. And also see if we can make a couple of dollars off of them.

How long will it take Esquire to earn back $755?

How many cents of that “couple of dollars” will the writers see?

Posted on 2000-09-30