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Petaluma author Ransom Stephens believes that the future success of publishing lies in the online world

It has become clear that this is the medium that can absorb nearly all other forms of media. As our world merges with the World Wide Web, literature is beginning to make that transition as well. Local writer, physicist and public speaker Ransom Stephens says the majority of the book industry is suffering in its current adherence to tradition.

?I think the major publishing companies do it backwards ? they start out with the expensive hardcovers, and then come out with paperbacks and e-books. Why would people buy a $25 hardcover book by someone they have never heard of? That?s why these books aren?t selling. E-books are two dollars; people are more likely to take a risk on new two-dollar books.?

Stephens? solution is to reverse the process. He believes that he has created a strategy by debuting his first published book conveniently and affordably through the new e-book store www.scribd.com. By doing this, he can avoid the drawn-out traditional publishing process and better predict his novel?s level of success on bookshelves.

?Somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of books that are published first, lose money,? said Stephens. ?Right now, books have to prove themselves electronically first.?

His book ?The God Patent? debuted exclusively as a $2 e-book on May 18, the same day www.scribd.com was launched. It has since attracted more than 4,000 readers to the site, and Stephens is confident that this will help the sales of audiobooks, paperbacks, and eventually, hardcovers of the same book, all of which he intends on releasing in that order.

?The God Patent? is a story that infuses quantum physics and scientific principles with the lives of a religious man and a female physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and includes a ?tremendous amount of genuine science, not science fiction,? Stephens says, although he assures readers that they do not need to have intensive scientific knowledge to enjoy it.

?It is the story of a laid-off engineer trying to rebuild his life who gets caught between science and religion, in a battle over the origin of the universe and the existence of the soul,? he explained. ?But it?s designed so that if you?re not that interested in science, you can still read right along ? there?s enough plot tension that you don?t have to strain yourself.?

The focus on science in his writing comes from a background in physics. Stephens identifies himself as ?a physicist by trade? ? he received his bachelor?s degree in physics from the University of California, San Diego in 1984 and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1990 ? but says that the switch to writing was natural. He?d been writing physics papers for years, documenting them well, and had been part of his high school and college newspaper staffs.

Though his career in science led him to many exciting projects through the years ? he has worked with countless major technology providers, laboratories, and universities ? Stephens often found himself writing in publications and giving speeches.

However, it wasn?t until a couple of hours spent stranded in a bookstore one day did he realize that he could go beyond writing op-ed pieces and physics papers.

?I was stuck for three or four hours and I just wandered around and decided that this was what I was eventually going to do,? he recalls. ?A few years ago the time became right. My business has kind of turned to writing and speaking.?

Stephens may be new to the writing industry, but he has firm ideas about its future. He believes that the future success of publishing lies in the online world.

?If books prove themselves electronically before going into print, then the bookstores will get better books, or at least more marketable ones. I think this will run in circles and actually benefit bookstores,? he says.

?And bookstores will change. They will have to be more like venues, with lots of readings and authors going in to talk and read,? he says. ?For example, a bookstore in Corte Madera has classes, big areas especially for authors to do readings, a cafe with wine and beer. Bookstores have to be places where you can go and hang out.?

Stephens has written an article titled ?Booking the Future? that thoroughly explains his philosophy on the fate of the book industry. Whether his ideas will prove to be true remains to be seen. However, ?The God Patent? does seem to be succeeding in the digital world.

?It?s looking like my book will be the first debut novel to emerge from this new paradigm of publishing,? Stephens says excitedly. ?It?s been crazy; it took a while to build up, but I?ve been e-mailing people, spreading the news. Now it?s a staff favorite and one of the weekly No. 1 most-read books on the site.?

An in-depth look into Stephens? works and career highlights can be found on his Web page, www.ransomstephens.com.

(Contact the writers at argus@arguscourier.com)