A new chapter for Amazon: Selling online access to books
If the idea floats, Amazon.com may do for books what Apple did for music. The Seattle retailer on Thursday introduced features that will...
Seattle Times retail reporter
If the idea floats, Amazon.com may do for books what Apple did for music.
The Seattle retailer on Thursday introduced features that will give customers online access to any page, section or chapter of a book — or perpetual access to the entire book — for a fee.
The company introduced the two new programs, to be offered sometime next year, to stave off rumors.
"We have had so many discussions with so many different publishers that it isn't practical to keep it under wraps," said Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos. "Too many people know about it."
The Amazon Pages program would "unbundle" books, by allowing customers to purchase and view the pages they want or need.
The service is akin to buying a song instead of the entire album — a practice Apple popularized in 2003 when it offered the first consumer-friendly method for buying music online.
In its first week, Apple's iTunes music store sold more than a million songs for 99 cents apiece, making it the largest online-music company in the world.
Under the Amazon Pages program, each book publisher would determine the fee for each book. The service, however, should cost "a few cents" per page, on average, Bezos said.
The second program, Amazon Upgrade, gives customers the option to purchase a physical book and perpetual online access to the book.
The company envisions the service being used by a software developer who wants 24-hour Web access to a book on Java, or someone who wants to print out a cookbook recipe from work.
Hypothetically, a customer that purchases a $20 book might get online access to the book for $1.99, Bezos said.
Thursday's announcement comes two years after Amazon introduced "Search Inside the Book," a feature that, for the first time, allowed Internet users to search the entire content of a book.
The feature, introduced in October 2003, was designed to enable customers to turn up books they wouldn't find otherwise.
A customer searching by the name of her favorite author, for instance, would not only find books the author had written, but also books that contained sections, paragraphs and chapters about the author.
Today, half of the books Amazon sells in the U.S. are part of the "Search Inside the Book" program.
Meanwhile, Random House, the largest trade-book publisher, said Thursday it plans to work with online booksellers, search engines and others to offer online viewing of its titles on pay-per-page basis.
The Google Library project involves scanning books for Google's search services, but the project is in a legal dispute over scanning copyrighted works. On Thursday, the company launched a related initiative in which it makes the text of out-of-copyright books searchable.
Random House said it would start with fiction and narrative nonfiction titles, including novels, biographies, thrillers, mysteries and science fiction. It said 99 cents for 20 pages could represent "an attractive introductory consumer offer."
"We expect that they [Amazon] will be the first vendor," said Richard Sarnoff, who heads corporate development for Random House Worldwide. "We haven't signed any license or contract."
Paul Aiken, executive director of The Authors Guild, the country's largest society of published authors, said authors could receive more royalties, but they will monitor the program to ensure it doesn't cannibalize traditional sales. "We hope Amazon and others can make it work," he said.
Monica Soto Ouchi: 206-515-5632 Material from Bloomberg News is included in this report.