HarperCollins, one of the few major publishers without an active e-book operation, jumped into the fray last week with the launch of PerfectBound, a new imprint dedicated to the global publishing of e-books. The imprint's first titles, Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian and Pride Before the Fall by John Heilemann, were released last week and 13 more titles are set to be published in March. HC has adopted a bimonthly e-book publishing schedule and plans to release approximately 100 titles this year. "We will be watching the marketplace, and that number could be modified up or down," David Steinberger, president of corporate strategy and international, told PW .

As part of its strategy, HC will publish the e-books on the launch list simultaneously in all of its markets, which include the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. However, HC publishers will have the ability to add locally published e-books in subsequent lists, said Chris North, v-p and general manager, electronic publishing. North, who will report to Steinberger, will manage HC's North American e-book program and coordinate its global activities.

HC will initially focus on converting HC print titles into e-books, although the publication of original e-books is possible at some point. North noted that the e-books are not straight conversions of texts but include additional information such as Xingjian's speech before the Nobel Academy and an interview with Joyce Carol Oates in connection with the e-book release of Faithless . The e-books will be priced at a 20% discount off the hardcover edition price, making the price of most U.S. titles $19.95.

HC signed agreements with both Lightning Source and Reciprocal to provide the company with e-book fulfillment services globally. In the U.S., the first titles are already available through Contentville, eBooks.com, Powells.com, SeekBOOKS.com and Gemstar's e-book devices, with Amazon.com, Advanced Marketing Services' retail customers's sites and the Booksite Network due to come on board soon. Chapters.ca will handle the downloads in Canada, while SeekBOOKS.com.au will be the Australian outlet. In the U.K., the e-books will be available at fireandwater.com, SeekBOOKS.co.uk and Waterstone's Online (waterstones.co.uk).

North acknowledged that HC is in an "investment mode" in terms of the e-book market, but speculated that within two to three years there "will be a real business for books that are done right."