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Jim Baen, 62; Science Fiction Publisher Pioneered Web Sales

Obituaries

July 04, 2006|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Jim Baen, a founder of a leading science-fiction publishing company who early on understood the potential for marketing the printed word on the Web, has died. He was 62.

Baen died Wednesday at Duke Health Raleigh Hospital in Raleigh, N.C., of complications from a stroke, said David Drake, a friend. Baen had been a resident of Wake Forest, N.C., home base of Baen Books.

"Jim Baen was a truly legendary figure in the world of science fiction and fantasy," Jack Romanos, president of Simon and Schuster, which distributes Baen Books, said in a statement. "Jim and his authors exerted a wide-ranging influence on the world of science fiction today."

From the time he launched his company in 1984, Baen expanded the business in thenuntypical ways, using the Internet as a main tool.

Visitors to the website www.baen.com can connect to Baen's Bar, a chat room where Baen made contact with several science-fiction writers whose books he later published.

He also created Baen's Library, a link on his website where readers could download books electronically, some of them free.

Baen also made new works available to paying website subscribers before the books were sold in stores.

He allowed readers to download texts using their choice of word-processing program and was a vocal critic of texts that could be downloaded in only one format.

Baen championed a good story above intellectual ideas or great literary style, said Drake, who has had a number of works published by Baen Books. Baen also gave first-time authors a chance more often than most other publishers.

"Jim took pleasure in finding new people and supporting them," Drake said. "He followed his own tastes; he wasn't bound by what others thought."

Baen started his career in publishing in 1972 at Ace Books, known for its science-fiction paperbacks. A year later he moved to Galaxy magazine and rose from managing editor to editor in chief. At Galaxy he introduced columns by several popular authors, including Jerry Pournelle.

In 1980, Baen became editorial director of Tor Books, which publishes science fiction and fantasy.

After establishing Baen Books, he published works by a number of bestselling authors, including John Ringo, David Weber and Eric Flint.

Born in Pennsylvania on Oct. 22, 1943, Baen started reading science-fiction magazines as a boy after finding a stash of them in a relative's attic.

Baen left home at 17 and lived on the streets for a time before enlisting in the Army, "the only available alternative to starving," Drake said. He completed military service and attended City College of New York.

Baen is survived by Katherine Baen, his daughter with Toni Weisskopf, his longtime partner; and Jessica Baen, his daughter from his marriage, which ended in divorce.

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