The Ottawa Sun
Wednesday, September 16, 1998

Single bestselling book never published

by Stuart McCarthy

"I've always wondered what the Internet was for", joked Sun editor Rick Gibbons the day U.S. special prosecutor Ken Starr's salacious tome was released.

"Now I know."

Gibbons, myself, and millions of other people worldwide helped turn the Net into sludge shortly after 2 p.m. that day, as the most awaited publication went into print.

The "printing press" that day was a series of Web servers that for a brief moment in time, linked probably the majority of the world's online computers together for a single, lurid purpose: To find out about what Monica Lewinsky claimed she and U.S. President Bill Clinton did in and around the Oval Office.

And oh, yes, the truth about the cigar with the presidential squeal.

But the rush to read All the President's Sins created probably the latest milestone if not the most significant event in the short life of the Internet.

In fact, because of the Net, probably the biggest single bestselling book of this decade will never be published.

Sure, there were some printed copies in binders available to members of Congress and the Washington press corps.

The online publication replaced what traditionally would have been a process involving printing presses, binding operations, huge shipping networks, and the ring of millions of dollars in the cash register.

"It's incredible", says Rick Broadhead, co-author of more than two dozen books on the Internet.

"What was remarkable was that as major news anchors were scrambling to read the information, everyone around the world had immediate access to it", says Broadhead. "Everyone had a level playing field."

Broadhead says it was "impressive" to see giant computer screens appear throughout major newsrooms as the backdrop for the event.

"I can't remember an event where the word 'Internet' has been used so much", he says. "There is no event in the history of the Internet that has attracted this much attention. It will be hard to match this."

What was also missed was the incredible revenue generation capabilities.

At the bottom end of the scale, extremely conservative estimates had 5.9 million people reading the report online. Others are as high as 70 million.

Governments around the world now routinely sell their documents as a way of offsetting costs.

This report could have been been a defining moment in e-commerce.

The U.S. government could have reaped untold millions for the public coffers by using secure online Web-based transaction software and charging for each download.

Ironically, the leading online book service -- Amazon.com -- will let you place an order for an eventual printed copy "so you can keep it bound in your own library", says Broadhead.

Has the interest died down?

Apparently not.

Just yesterday, someone posted a special converted version of the Starr report for downloading into the PalmPilot personal digital assistant from 3Com.

A betting man would say it will surpass the excerpts from the Kama Sutra and Fanny Hill available online for the millions of PalmPilot users.

For as Broadhead's partner Jim Carroll says: "The U.S. Senate which recently passed a bill against online pornography just became the world's biggest online publishers of pornography."

Copyright © 1998 by The Ottawa Sun. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.