Thirteen years later, the book industry has finally decided to experiment with the Internet instead of fearing it. HarperCollins will publish a few titles online–for a limited time, with printing and downloading impossible, of course–in the hopes that “sampling” will lead to real book sales. The NYT explains:
Brian Murray, president of HarperCollins, said that the free electronic editions would be available only for one month, and readers would not be able to download them to laptops or to an electronic reader like Kindle from Amazon.com. The print function will also be disabled, but readers will be able to link to retailers like Amazon.com to buy copies of the books.
This is a good first step. A good second step would be to start selling electronic versions of books for $0.99-$3.99 for downloading to Kindles, iPods, or just plain old web browsers. This would make buying a book a no-never-mind and vastly increase the volume of electronic copies sold. (Right now, publishers insist on charging the same or nearly the same price for electronic copies as for hard copies, which is ludicrous).
The publishers could maintain or even raise their prices for physical books, which people would continue to buy (the reader transition to digital books will take time). While doing so, however, they could leverage their fixed investment in royalties and editing by driving higher volume on the electronic side. And who knows? Publishers might even begin to sell books to readers who just don’t read books anymore.
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