Dot-com Dostoyevskys chronicle demise

The bust in the Internet economy sparks a miniboom in the publishing industry, as book editors vie for the worm's-eye view of the dot-com demise.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
3 min read
The bust in the Internet economy has sparked a miniboom in the publishing industry, as book editors vie for the worm's-eye view of the dot-com demise.

At the height of the boom, the publishing industry churned out title after title by and about the chief executives and founders of companies such as Microsoft and Netscape Communications. Now that businesses are struggling and closing, interest has shifted to the underlings and skeptics.

The new appetite among publishers for these accounts has fueled a pair of recent auctions, both won by units of Simon & Schuster. One of the books promises an insider's account of working at online retailer Amazon.com; the other, by F***edCompany.com creator Phil Kaplan, will recount the Internet industry's boom and bust from the perspective of the Web's most famous dot-com deadpool.

The market for mainstream books about high-tech is "still hot," said Doug Pepper, an editor at Random House's Crown Publishers, which bid unsuccessfully on the Amazon book but did not bid on Kaplan's. "We're seeing more proposals (for books) that are licking their chops and having fun with the fact that all these rich young kids went out of business. Publishers are keeping a very, very close eye on good stuff that's coming out."

With the recent dot-com downturn, news organizations and rumor sites have had no shortage of layoffs and closings to report. Kaplan's site has gained a wide following of people reporting and reading tips and rumors of bad corporate tidings.

Now Kaplan will use his daily tips and caustic observations on troubled Web businesses as the basis of his book.

"The book is going to be a retrospective on what happened, written from the viewpoint of a 25-year-old single programmer living in New York," Kaplan said in an interview. "It's not from a journalist or an analyst or the people you usually hear from."

In April, Simon & Schuster's Free Press division won a heated auction for a book about Amazon by former employee Mike Daisey, whose one-man show poked fun at the online retailer.

Daisey, who received a $170,000 advance for his Amazon book, said the interest in perspectives like his and Kaplan's would make for better stories about the rise and fall of the Internet bubble.

"The people most affected were people who invested their lives and dreams in these jobs and then lost them," Daisey said. "A lot of these people really thought they were changing the world, not just chasing after money. I think that's a more interesting story than the ones about the giant titans."

Daisey expects the book to be published in spring 2002.

Daisey's literary agent warned that while interest in the post-boom Internet industry is high, publishers cannot count on that interest to carry a book to success.

"These two sold to a large extent because people are fascinated with the bubble popping, but also because they're written by people who are funny and insightful," said Daniel Greenberg, an agent with James Levine Communications in New York City. "The danger is for a publisher to try to capitalize on that interest without having a very good, strong, funny writer. Kaplan's hysterical, and so's Mike Daisey, and fortunately they're writing about a topic that people are really, really interested in."

The sale of Kaplan's book to Simon & Schuster followed a bidding war involving "all of the major publishers I'd ever heard of," Kaplan said. Simon & Schuster editor Geoff Kloske, who won the auction, declined to reveal the winning bid. Kaplan said it was a six-figure advance.

Kaplan expects to finish his book in the fall and for its release to come within a year.

Kloske, whose previous credits include David Eggers' "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" and works by political strategist and commentator James Carville, denied that Kaplan's book would match his Web site's regular lapses into vulgarity, sexual innuendo and questionable taste.