The Small Print: Book publishers are following the nano buzz

March 2, 2004 — The day after Hewlett-Packard’s “n is for nanotechnology” television commercial ran during the U.S. Open tennis tournament in September 2003, Fred Filler’s phone started ringing.

The marketing manager with book publisher Wiley & Sons Inc., had long been telling colleagues that nanotechnology was a subject they’d be hearing more about. Today, Wiley is one of several publishers with a growing focus on small tech titles.

In February, science publisher Springer-Verlag released the “Springer Handbook of Nanotechnology,” a mammoth 1,222-page tome surveying everything from basic concepts to current research and detailed data on materials. The publisher’s new Web site also has a subsection devoted to microtechnology and nanotechnology titles.

While publishers of technical, scientific and academic books have (like the researchers who write them) been putting out work related to the nanoscale for decades, today’s commercial buzz over nano hasn’t gone unnoticed in the book world.

Bernard Goodwin, publisher of Prentice Hall Professional Technical Reference, which released Mark and Daniel Ratner’s “Nanotechnology and Homeland Security: New Weapons for New Wars” in November 2003, anticipates a growing demand for information about nanotechnology among nonscientists and business people.

“Our strategy is to publish nanotechnology science and engineering textbooks for the emerging college course market and reference books for the practicing engineer across a variety of industries, as well as continuing to publish the non-technical book for the broad-based market,” Goodwin wrote via e-mail.

“Nanotechnology is so fresh and new and full of promise that we are open to all ideas for books from prospective authors that share our excitement and believe in the potential benefits of nanotechnology.”

Filler explained that with so much research money flowing toward nanotechnology, book publishers like Wiley are following the funding. Research dollars result in academic papers that naturally evolve into technical titles, handbooks and collected papers.

The field is especially attractive, he noted, for a publisher like Wiley that has already published a range of nanotech titles and covers a wide range of scientific subjects in books and journals, A recent release, David Goodsell’s new “Bionanotechnology: Lessons from Nature,” is a good example of where the cross-fertilization of nanotechnology is spawning new areas of expertise.

Other new offerings include an English translation of “Nanotechnology: An Introduction to Nanostructuring Techniques,” by Michael K√∂hler and Wolfgang Fritzsche, from the original German.

While one of Wiley’s first nanotech titles was “Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation,” K. Eric Drexler’s 1992 follow-up to “Engines of Creation,” Filler reports that as the broader public’s growing interest has driven popularity of more general audience books such as “Introduction to Nanotechnology,” by Charles P. Poole, Jr. and Frank J. Owens, published in 2003, or business titles such as Glenn Fishbine’s “The Investor’s Guide to Nanotechnology & Micromachines,” in 2001.

Over the course of the next year Wiley has 29 nanotech titles slated for publication on subjects such as biochips, the nano/micro interface and a handbook on nanotech business, policy and intellectual property.

To map out a plan to meet the expected growth in demand for nanotech titles, Wiley marketing colleagues from the United Kingdom, Germany and Asia got together last summer to compile lists of university research centers and companies focused on nanotech, as well as some of the leading authorities who might be approached to edit or write a book.

The group also identified where it might advertise its nanotech initiative, in journals such as Elsevier Publishing’s Materials Today, or Wiley’s own Advanced Materials. Another facet of the plan entailed a direct marketing mailing in Europe and the United States. One challenge a direct marketing effort poses is that a “nanotech audience” is difficult to clearly define when the field cuts across so many scientific disciplines and industries.

World Scientific Publishing Co., with headquarters in Singapore and offices throughout Asia and the world, is another book-and-journal company with a dedicated list of nanotechnology titles. Two recent best-sellers are “Molecular Electronics: Commercial Insights, Chemistry, Devices, Architecture and Programming,” by James Tour, a nanotech researcher at Rice University in Houston and co-founder of Molecular Electronics Corp., and “Nano-Engineering in Science and Technology: An Introduction to the World of Nano-Design,” by Michael Rieth.

While the nanotech slice of the professional and scholarly books market is a very small part of what the American Association of Publishers gauged was, in the United States alone, a $5 billion business in 2002, Wiley’s Filler sees three areas of growth. The first is for books aimed at engineers in specific industries looking to apply nanoscience to commercial processes. The second is for titles on metrology and measuring techniques to help nanotechnologists characterize what they can fabricate. Filler expects the third to look at the ongoing debate about the risks and rewards of nanotechnology.

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