Talk of widgets sprouted again last week when Hachette unveiled an audio widget to promote the downloadable audio edition of David Sedaris's When You Are Engulfed in Flames. The interesting thing about the Hachette widget, though, was that a third party named Zipidee made it. More interestingly, Zipidee is not a widget-maker; it's a new online retailer that intends to marry the dot-com sales model with the viral marketing power of widgets. In other words, it wants to sell content directly through widgets.

Publishers have been dabbling with widgets since 2007. The idea behind a widget, an embeddable content sample that can be shared virally—anyone who comes across a widget can upload it to their own Web page or put it in an e-mail—has always been to spark sales through the spread of snippets.

Zipidee, which tags itself the “digi-good marketplace,” is trying a model that some think may be the next wave in online retailing. The company launched in 2007 and, according to Simon Gillmore, v-p of business development, has been described as “iTunes meets eBay.” (The eBay reference is because Zipidee allows smaller content creators to upload their digital wares.) Although the site sells a few physical DVDs, it overwhelmingly focuses on download-only content and is divided into four subcategories: video, audio, e-books and a catchall group dubbed “All Digi Goods.”

Although Zipidee currently features a sparse collection of e-books and downloadable audiobooks, the company is in talks with a number of houses to change that. (It has agreements to feature content from Hachette, Random House and Simon & Schuster.) As Gillmore explained, what Zipidee will offer publishers is the technology to automatically generate widgets for every title it sells. Further, the Zipidee widget, in addition to featuring technology like audio, allows Web surfers to buy titles within the widget. This means a user is not sent to another Web page to complete the transaction.

Thus far Zipidee has produced two book widgets—for the Sedaris title and for Cory Doctorow's Little Brother—and will continue to create more widgets for future titles. While Zipidee works on the standard retail model—it takes a cut of all sales made directly on its site or through its widgets—Gillmore said the retail experience it offers creates the illusion that consumers are buying the content directly from the publisher. And this, he said, means publishers can easily co-brand the Zipidee widget and make it more their own.