Updated from 3:52 p.m. EST Further shaking up the book world, Amazon.com ( AMZN) and Random House announced separate plans to sell digital book access by the page. The initiatives by Seattle-based Amazon and New York's Random House, which is owned by German media giant Bertelsmann, will create a system of selling books that's similar to how Apple Computer ( AAPL) sells music through its iTunes site at
apple.com/tunes . Book publishers have been reluctant to embrace digital technology out of fear of being crippled by the illegal downloading that has hurt the music business, said Pat Longstaff, associate professor at Syracuse University, who does research on communications technology. She said the appeal of digital books may be limited at first. "For scholars and people who are only interested in specific information, that is probably is a market in the near- to mid-term," she said. "For other people, it's going to be take a while longer. ... Downloading a chapter of a mystery novel doesn't cut it." Through a service called Amazon Pages, Amazon will allow people to "inexpensively" buy chapters from a book and read them online, the Seattle-based company said in a statement. Customers will get complete online access to the book through another service called Amazon Upgrade. Both services are an extension of Amazon's existing search within a book program. The company, which didn't specify prices, didn't return phone calls for comment. "Amazon Pages and Amazon Upgrade leverage Amazon's existing Search Inside the Book technology to give customers unusual flexibility in how they buy and read books," said CEO Jeff Bezos. "In collaboration with our publishing partners, we're working hard to make the world's books instantly accessible anytime and anywhere." Random House will also allow online viewing of its books on a pay-per-view basis. It will negotiate separate agreements with online book sellers, search engines and other Web sites, the company said in a statement.
"Books will be available for full indexing, search and display," Random House said. "No downloading, printing or copying will be permitted." A "publisher-determined free sample" of page views of as much as 5% of a book's length will be permitted, Random House said. Random House will receive 4 cents per page from vendors, who will determine pricing beyond the initial part of the book. No timetable has been set for Random House's initiative, said Stuart Applebaum, a company spokesman. Random House may participate in the Amazon program "if we can come to terms," he said, adding that the two companies had a good relationship. Other publishers likely will follow Random House's lead, said Jim Milliot, business and news editor at Publishers Weekly, a trade publication. "It's broad enough to allow a lot of flexibility," he said. The announcement from Amazon and Random House comes the same day that Google ( GOOG) began allowing people to search through out-of-print books and other materials from some of the top libraries in the country through its controversial Google Print book digitization initiative. People can now search on
print.google.com through books on the Civil War, government documents and writings by well-known authors such as Henry James. The books come from the collections of the New York Public Library, Harvard University, the University of Michigan and Stanford University. Readers can also peruse more obscure fare such as 1886's "Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton: B.A. of Trinity College, Cambridge, Exacted from his Letters" by Arthur Christopher Benson or "Studies in German Literature: Sundermann: Hauptmann; Woman Writers of the Nineteenth Century" by Otto Heller, from 1905. "Our goal is to make these public domain books and the knowledge within them accessible to the world," said Susan Wojcicki, Google's president of product management, in a statement. "Any researcher or student, whether they're in New York or New Delhi can now research and learn from these books that were only available in the library."
The problem for Google is that some publishers and authors are balking at the Mountain View, Calif., company's plans to scan more modern books on the Internet. Earlier this month, the Association of American Publishers sued, claming the company's plan violates copyright law. Another lawsuit by the Authors Guild makes similar allegations. Google denies that Google Print violates copyright law. In a press release, Google said it supported the plans by Amazon and Random House, saying they were complimentary to Google Print and illustrate the need to make information more acsessable. "Amazon is a valuable partner and we link to Amazon so people can buy books they've found with Google Print," Google said. The company is considering adopting a sales strategy similar to what Amazon's, the company said. Amazon's statement doesn't provide a listing of its publishing partners or mention when the service is going to be available. The Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild said they had no objections to the plan. "Amazon seems to be going about the right way by respecting the rights of authors and publishers," said Judy Platt, spokesman for the Association of American Publishers, in an interview. Finding new sources of revenue for publishers will also benefit authors, said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. "If there is a new way to get some value out of some books, than the authors will be able to share in that value in some way," he said. Shares of Google, the top search engine company, rose $4.82 to $384.50. Amazon rose 52 cents to $41.27.