In the book business, the 2009 holidays look to be shaping up as the season of the e-reader. It's been a long time since something related to books had a place in the pantheon of “hot holiday gift,” but with Amazon saying the Kindle had its best sales month ever in November, Barnes & Noble currently out of stock on its Nook, and—perhaps most prophetically—the New York Times placing a Kindle on the cover of its tech gift guide last week, a book-related item is now competing with the usual coveted electronic gifts this time of year: cameras, video game consoles, and iPods.

Despite the likelihood that there could be a flurry of digital book buying on December 25, most publishers aren't mounting any special promotions to encourage it. As one executive put it, with Amazon and B& already offering e-books for $9.99, what more incentive do customers need?

Zondervan is one publisher taking a proactive approach. The Christian house is currently giving away Kindle editions of all four of Don Brown's books—Treason (2005), Hostage (2005), Defiance (2007), and Black Sea Affair (2009)—and, at various points last week, all the titles breached the top 10 in the Kindle store.

Steve Sammons, Zondervan's executive v-p of consumer engagement, called the Brown giveaway primarily a test. The promotion has been going on for two weeks. Although Sammons said it was too early to offer any takeaway on the experiment, he pointed out that Brown's books now had more user comments on Amazon than they ever had before. Whether the free model could spark future e-sales or, ideally, print sales, is still unknown. Sammons also had no data to show whether those free downloads came as a result of consumers confusing Don Brown with that other well-known author named Brown.

Last week, Del Rey mounted a giveaway in the Kindle store for Charlie Huston's thriller Already Dead (2007). But Matt Schwartz, director of digital strategy for RH, said the Huston push wasn't a holiday-timed initiative or even a new marketing approach. Schwartz said the house had been giving away digital editions of the first book in a series since around last May—Already Dead is the first in Huston's vampire noir series featuring detective Joe Pitt. The giveaways, according to Schwartz, have created a bump in e-book sales of other books in the series and in authors' backlists. (Previous series starters the house has given away in digital include Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon and Marie Moning's Darkfever.)

Of course, with just under three weeks until Christmas, publishers could still add more e-book giveaways in the Kindle store, but at least one industry veteran said such promotions should only be considered by the big houses.

Rudy Shur, founder of Square One, discussed his reticence to digitize his catalogue in a speech earlier this year at an Independent Book Publishers Association event. Shur pointed out that current e-book bestsellers are, for the most part, the current print bestsellers. (See boxes for lists of the top five e-book bestsellers among the major houses.) Shur believes that people who buy (or are given) e-readers aren't going after niche titles—the mainstay of most indie houses—and he worries that some presses are wasting time, and sometimes money, rushing to get their books into digital formats. Pointing out that some digital conversion companies charge as much as $40 to $50 to convert a title into e-book format, Shur thinks some small houses are rushing into a market that is still untested and, right now, dominated by the corporate houses.

For his part, Shur, who has made a few of his titles available as e-books, is waiting for the market to evolve before he becomes more aggressive. Asked if he thought small publishers feel pressure to digitize their books by Christmas, Shur said he did believe this thinking prevailed in some circles. To those indies feeling the need to digitize, Shur warns that patience, in this market, will be the most rewarded virtue. “I've watched companies with that herd mentality run to something, and run off the cliff.”

Random House E-Book Bestsellers

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel
Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
South of Broad by Pat Conroy

Penguin E-Book Bestsellers

The Scarpetta Factor by Patricia Cornwell
A Touch of Dead by Charlaine Harris
Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts
Rough Country by John Sandford
The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Simon & Schuster E-Book Bestsellers

Pursuit of Honor by Vince Flynn
Rainwater by Sandra Brown
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
Arguing with Idiots by Glenn Beck
The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans

Harpercollins E-Book Bestsellers

SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Lit by Mary Karr
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner