News Launches E-Book Imprint
Calvin Reid -- 1/8/01
Plans are to publish thousands of titles and offer higher royalties,
cheaper e-books and a giant Web sales network

Looking to kickstart the nascent e-book business and attract new readers to digitally delivered text, Barnes& will launch Barnes & Noble Digital, an electronic publishing imprint that expects to publish thousands of print, out-of-print, public-domain and original titles in e-book editions over the next few years.

In a challenge to traditional publishers, the e-retailer is staking out a leadership position in the still forming e-book industry by offering a higher royalty rate to authors, lower-priced e-books and an extensive Web marketing and sales network. The imprint is also addressing a longtime sore point for agents and authors by providing accurate and up-to-date information on sales through The first B&ND e-books should be available in the spring, although declined to specify the number of titles it will offer initially.

Michael Fragnito, v-p of the digital book group at, has been named publisher of the new imprint. Laura Nolan, a former agent, has been named senior editor and will manage author and agent relations. The imprint initially will have a staff of about four and will likely expand to six or seven, Fragnito said.

B&N Digital will offer authors a 35% royalty on the retail price of an e-book sold through's eBook Store, higher than any major New York publisher. (In comparison, Random House's recently announced e-book royalty rate is 50% of the wholesale price of an e-book, which is about 25% of retail price.) B&ND will also offer a 50% royalty on the wholesale price of its titles that are sold through its 400,000 affiliate Web sites. The e-books will be available in all formats, as well as print-on-demand paper books.

Although the B&ND list will focus on publishing electronic editions of general-interest titles already in or out of print, the imprint is actively pursuing original e-books and announced a deal to publish The Book of Counted Sorrows, an original e-book by bestselling author Dean Koontz, in the spring. And in a challenge to publishers who are pricing e-books much the same as their print editions, B&ND e-books will be much cheaper, priced from $5.95 to $7.95.

Building an E-book Market
In a conference call with PW, vice-chairman Stephen Riggio and Fragnito, Riggio took issue with the notion that the new venture is "saber-rattling," or is a step toward becoming a general publisher. "B&N was a publisher before Len [Riggio] bought it; we've always focused on out-of-print titles, but this is focused on e-books. It's a step toward building a market for e-books," he said. "Publishers can't colonize an author's work. This is an extension of what we do. We can offer an author the technology, the retail Web site and the customer base," Riggio said.

Riggio emphasized that B&ND is focusing on books already in print. Fragnito ech d his emphasis on the ability of to market and sell e-books as well as an author's print backlist. "When you have a reader in your hands, on an author's page--what an opportunity," Fragnito said.

As for pricing, Riggio stressed his belief that lower prices will attract a larger audience: "E-bo0ks need mass market pricing. Customers expect it and are entitled to it." Fragnito cited the ability of e-books to "help a writer maxed out at 17,000 copies. We can give their books new life. My phone is ringing off the hook with calls from agents."

Fragnito told PW that B&ND will pay advances as well as royalties, "depending on the book. We'll pay our standard 35% royalty, or more for some authors. We're looking for realistic expectations of the market."

Fragnito said that e-book sales through currently are small, but encouraging. "The Gemstar devices caused a big bump in sales. Science fiction and business are strong categories. But it's still too early," he said. On the proliferation of e-book formats, he said, "We like something about them all--Gemstar, the readability of Microsoft Reader, the printing option of Adobe Acrobat, the new [Franklin] eBookMan--but it's too early to pick."

The imprint also plans to publish "thousands" of public-domain classics, even though scores of classics are available in downloadable formats all over the Web. "We'll do a better job," said Riggio. "We'll add value and we have experience other sites don't have. We'll provide an editorial perspective through our selections. Our customers want us to do this."

This will create more business, said Fragnito; "There are plenty of books to be done out there. We're out to make it better for everyone and sell more print copies, too."

Unsurprisingly, Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, told PW, "Higher royalty rates are good. We knew B&N would move into e-books and that in order to get in, they'd have to offer attractive rates. We had expected that there would be royalty rate competition coming from somewhere. This d sn't mean traditional publishers will be out of the game, not by a long shot. It's nothing but good as far as authors are concerned."