[ PW Home ] [ Bestsellers ] [ Subscribe ] [ Search ]

Publishers Weekly News

Microsoft, B&N.com Bid To Expand E-book Audience
Paul Hilts -- 8/14/00
E-book superstore offers 2,000 titles, free MS Reader
software downloadable to all Windows PCs

In this Article:

Microsoft Corp. joined Barnesandnoble.com in a move to break open the e-book market this week, announcing free downloads of the Microsoft Reader software that makes e-books readable on any computer with Windows 95 or newer Windows editions. B&N.com shared the spotlight at the press conference; Dick Brass, v-p of emerging technologies at Microsoft, likened the advent of MS Reader to that of the Model T Ford in the early auto industry: "These are not the first e-books," Brass explained, "but the first useful, practical e-books. And though the reading experience is very good with Reader, very close to paper, these devices are not the best they can be--every generation will get better." Microsoft Reader can be downloaded for free at www.microsoft.com/reader and at ebooks.barnesandnoble.com
unveils e-book store.
The Microsoft/BN.com relationship is nonexclusive. B&N. com offers customers a choice of MS Reader, Rocket eBook and Glassbook formats. Microsoft is also preparing to distribute software and e-books through other retailers. Microsoft will make money by charging what Brass characterized as "small, single-digit royalties" on the sale of each book.
Expanding the Market Steve Riggio, vice-chairman and acting CEO of B&N.com noted, "Growth of electronic publishing has been stalled for the last 10 years. Not many people want to read books on the PCs that have been available. But now a portable platform is there, with hundreds of millions of users, and the software is free."

The press conference served as the forum for B&N.com to officially launch its much-touted e-book bookstore, which now offers 2,000 e-books, including 100 classics available for free. The store is adding 150 titles every week. "This is not vanity publishing, and it is not about killing the market for printed books, but expanding the market for all books, previewing books and chapters to stimulate sales," Riggio said. "You might have seen the book online, and then ordered a copy to be printed on demand from our distribution center. At the end of digital distribution is the print book. More books go out of print each year than are published. This is a way to make 'out of print' obsolete."

Simon & Schuster president Jack Romanos declared, "We believe the e-book revolution will have an impact on the book industry as great as the paperback revolution of the '60s." Romanos said that S&S is now publishing frontlist titles by Stephen Ambrose, Jackie Collins and Kathy Reichs in electronic form. Laurence Kirshbaum, CEO of Time Warner Trade Publishing, commented that for electronic publishing, "We need a guerrilla team, not thinking like the rest of the organization, but with a whole new perspective on publishing. We want to see electronic publishing blow the covers off of books. We're offering titles from the most popular writers: Nelson DeMille, Sandra Brown and Nicholas Sparks."

Just as Michael Crichton's Timeline was used as a promotion for the debut of the PocketPC in April, B&N.com has announced special e-book promotions with Robert Ludlum and Orson Scott Card (St. Martin's Press), and with Scott Turow (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Erik Engstrom, COO of Random House, announced that three more Crichton novels--Airframe, Disclosure and LostWorld--will be offered this summer for the first time as e-books in MS Reader format, along with 100 titles by other Random House authors.

Some glitches remain to be worked out in the eBookStore: for example, a search for Darwin's Origin of Species under "all e-book formats" found Origin in Rocket eBook format, but not in MS Reader; to find Origin for MS Reader, one needs to go through the listing of all science books.

Building an Industry Each of the press conference participants spoke of the importance of the event in building an industry. Riggio said, "We're all working together here at the infancy of e-books. It's very different from [the development of] CD-ROM, where we all fought before there was a business." To which Kirshbaum rejoined, "I'm glad to hear you say that; I read something different yesterday," a reference to a New York Times article that quoted Riggio as saying, "Publishers are not terribly good at physical book distribution, and they are not very good at technology. They will have a place in the digital world, but smaller than it is today."

Commenting on the direction digital distribution might take B&N, Riggio was unapologetic: "We are publishers--we've been doing public-domain books for a long time; in the '60s we produced out-of-print books for libraries. Now we're adding other needed titles of all types. We see the e-book space as the e-content marketplace."

Queried about whether there would be an MS Reader for other computer operating systems, Brass rated the possibility of other versions of MS Reader--for Macintosh: yes, definitely, sometime in the next year; for Palm: a strong maybe; for Linux: a weak maybe. The only real holdup, according to Brass, is the resources required to do all these tasks at once. Peanut Press has been translating titles between Microsoft Reader and Palm for some months.

Fighting E-PiracyAt the same press conference, Brass announced a joint initiative of Microsoft and the Association of American Publishers to combat piracy. "Copy protection depends on the three Es: encryption, enforcement and education," Brass stated. As part of the initiative, the AAP will establish a committee to oversee education and enforcement; its advisory board will include Brass, AAP president Pat Schr der and others. AAP and Microsoft will focus on programs to educate the public about copyright and its ongoing anti-piracy efforts with the International Digital Software Association to identify and halt copyright violators. The initiative has launched a Web site at microsoft.com/piracy/epub/ with general information, an interview with Schr der and a FAQ section on digital copyright that will eventually become part of the AAP Web site at www.publishers.org.

"You have to make it easier to be honest than to steal," said Brass. "You have to teach people that stealing intellectual property is essentially the same as stealing cars."
Back To News
Search | Bestsellers | News | Features | Children's Books | Bookselling
Interview | Industry Update | International | Classifieds | Authors On the Highway
About PW | Subscribe
Copyright 2000. Publishers Weekly. All rights reserved.