Thursday, November 3, 2005

Amazon Announces Flexible Electronic Book Sales: Who's Your Daddy?

Well, as if we didn't expect it. After hunkering down rather quietly in the online book wars Amazon finally has tipped its cards and revealed two new programs for selling books online, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription) and CNET News. According to Amazon's press release the programs will allow "enable customers to purchase online access to any page, section, or chapter of a book, as well as the book in its entirety." The Amazon Pages program will unbundle specific sections of content for online use, while Amazon Upgrade will allow hard copy purchasers to get an online electronic version for use at a premium. Unmentioned thus far is whether existing book owners will be able to provide proof of purchase to get an online license after the fact. With such a dominant position in online book sales and a healthy experimental program used to license online book-like content, Amazon is well positioned to make great use of these strengths in forging new commercial models for booksellers within a store-like framework that comforts them more than the wide-open Web world.

Who will bite at this program first? Notably the key example given in the press release of the happy customer is a Java programmer needing 24x7 access to programming references for searching. Hmm, sounds as if services like Knovel, O'Reilly's Safari Bookshelf and Books 24x7, which have already pioneered online book searching and (for Knovel) value-add analysis tools for tech-oriented books, may have been putting a dent in Amazon's sales. Obviously the whole Google/Yahoo/Open Content Alliance tussle factors into this in a huge way also, but don't forget that online electronic book sales with flexible access models have been a reality for quite some time, now. The difference with this announcement is that publishers are trying to find additional ecommerce models that can help them to adapt to online content sales more effectively. If ever you thought that eBooks were a sleepy niche (not us), it's officially time to think again...
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