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Random House, Modern Library to Offer E-books
Calvin Reid -- 8/7/00
Publisher announced last week that it is moving ahead with plans
to launch a selective e-book frontlist

Random House announced last week that it is moving ahead with plans to launch a selective e-book frontlist as well as to offer a larger selection of classic backlist titles in electronic format. All the titles will be offered in a variety of e-book formats and in print-on-demand trade paperback editions by early next year.

In early 2001 Random House will launch an imprint to be called AtRandom that will offer 20 original works in e-book form by prominent authors in several subject categories. At the same time, Modern Library will release e-book editions of 100 classic titles, including James Joyce's Ulysses and E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime. All the e-books will be available for sale through online retailers, and bricks-and-mortar stores will be able to sell the POD editions.

Ann Godoff, president and publisher and editor-in-chief of Random House Trade Group, will oversee both e-publishing programs, and Jonathan Karp, v-p and senior editor at Random House, will direct the AtRandom imprint. Karp told PW that the imprint will launch using staff "borrowed" from the Random House editorial team.

Random House officials emphasized that AtRandom will not handle digital publishing efforts for RH's other publishing groups, which may launch their own e-publishing programs.

The 20 authors on the initial AtRandom list received advances and will earn a 15% royalty rate, the standard Random House contract, said Karp. And while many agents complain about dealing with Random House over electronic rights, Karp told PW, "Every agent was agreeable to embarking on this. They all want to see where e-books are going and obviously Random House is a good place to start. We didn't haggle over things that didn't matter."

However, Robert Gottlieb of the William Morris Agency told PW that the haggling wasn't quite done. Gottlieb said that too many agents let Random House have these rights because it's convenient: "It d s an author a disservice to willingly give away these rights. They are allowing publishers to set a precedent before there's an industry and a real retail business." Gottlieb noted that most handheld devices are not secure. "There are a lot of issues that require time. I say, hold off until there is a real business and real copyright protection." He also noted that "e-publishing is cheap. Publishers have to rethink their business model."

In choosing the titles, Karp said he looked for "books on the culture of technology; books that would appeal to 20-somethings, they're comfortable with the technology"; and books that would appeal to "highly motivated readers." The list includes an anthology of short fiction called Men Seeking Women: Love and Sex Online with stories by Po Bronson, Richard Dooling, David Liss and others. Among the nonfiction titles are works by Elizabeth Wurtzel (The Secret of Life: Common Sense Advice for Uncommon People); and Henry Alford (Out There: One Man's Fearless Search for the Funniest Person on the Internet). Karp emphasized that the new imprint will not be working with Xlibris, the POD and subsidized publishing venture that Random House invested in earlier this year. "The AtRandom list is highly selective and carefully edited. We're completely separate."

David Ebershoff, publishing director of the Modern Library, said that the 100 e-book editions of classic titles will be under the Modern Library imprint. "It will be just another format we offer, like our expansion into paperbacks," said Ebershoff. The titles chosen are "books we know there's a market for. Students and academics come to electronic texts early. These books are our bestsellers, standard texts in academia." E-publishing will also allow the publisher to sell individual titles or bundle many of its multivolume classics into a single digital edition.

"Electronic publishing enables us to present books in ways that were never possible in printed format," said Ebershoff.
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