The Plastic Silver Platter of Empowerment
"Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon filled with magtape, or a 747 filled with CD-ROMs." -- The New Hacker's Dictionary, MIT Press, 1993
While the World-Wide-Web has blossomed, CD-ROM -- previously the darling of all right-thinking and forward-looking electronic publishers -- has lost much of its glamour. But during the same period, CD-ROM drives have become standard equipment on new PCs, CD-ROM has become the preferred distribution medium for mass-market operating systems and applications, and CD-R (write-once) drives and pre-mastering software packages have decreased in price from $10,000 (and up) to around $500. In other words, while many of us were looking the other way, CD-ROM has finally attained the critical mass and commodity status its proponents were always hoping for.
Technologically, the ability to publish vast amounts of data or digitized images, sound, and video on a robust, indelible medium at nominal cost is now within the grasp of every owner of a PC or Macintosh.The technology, in fact, has become basically a no-brainer. But "power users" and software developers who set out to create a CD-ROM product with the idea that it is something like desktop-publishing a book soon find that it is a lot more like producing a movie. A business plan must be generated, financing must be arranged, creative content must be commissioned or licensed, packaging and the CD-ROM label must be designed, typeset, and rendered to film, vast amounts of copy must be written, up to 650 MB of software and data must be assembled in one place and validated, a user interface must be constructed and wrung out on a wide variety of hardware, a bullet-proof installation facility must be written and tested, and so on. In short, the logistics are complex, and a multi-disciplinary approach is mandatory.
What you want is an industry veteran or two to hold you by the hand and help you over the rough spots the first time around. The authors of Electronic Publishing on CD-ROM bring two different types of experience to the table: Cunningham has worked on successful technically-oriented CD-ROM projects (SIG-GRAPH conference proceedings), while Rosebush has helped put together mass-market "edutainment" CD-ROM titles ("Asimov's Ultimate Robot"). During the course of the book they methodically address almost every area you will need to worry about: the user interface, authoring tools, file systems, the mechanics of CD-ROM mastering and production, jewel boxes and inserts, marketing, distribution, licensing, and most importantly, straightforward models for estimating costs, profits, and staffing requirements. There are also nicely balanced discussions of the upcoming Digital Video Disk (DVD) media and players, and of the benefits and tradeoffs of CD-ROM vs. WWW electronic publishing.
Over the last two years, I have -- working mostly in isolation and on a shoestring budget -- published six specialty CD-ROMs of various types (the majority were for medical geneticists), and during that time I learned a great many painful lessons that I would much rather have read about in advance. This is not to say that I didn't look for such a book, but the books I did find were typically long on whiz-bang technology or descriptions of the author's pet projects or rosy predictions about the future, and short on practical advice. Electronic Publishing on CD-ROM arrived too late to help me, but just in time to help most of you.--Dr. Dobb's Electronic Review of Computer Books