Random House starting to figure out ebooks?

Publisher’s Weekly has an interesting article about Fictionwise and their partnership with Random House for a few books. What makes Fictionwise interesting is that they sell their books without any digital rights management. They’re unencrypted, and presumably there’s nothing – other than ethics – to prevent warez kidz from buying one copy and distributing it to a thousand of their best friends. But people don’t. And Fictionwise makes money.

Interesting, isn’t it? It certainly flies in the face of the rabid DRM folk who are so zealous that they’re busy crippling music CDs for all of us (and they wonder why music CD sales are down? Hmmmm)…

Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly had to say about this topic:

“Evangelist entrepreneurs Fictionwise have been flogging for years the
idea that unencrypted ebooks are more user-friendly and saleable than
the encrypted kind. Now the startup has a notable, if highly
temporary, partner in Random House, which is taking three ebooks from
Del Rey and releasing them as unencrypted titles via Fictionwise.

The promotion for the three books, Tainted Garden by Jeff Stanley, Stone
Maiden by Anne Aquirre and Thagoth by Michael McClung is, according to
the publisher, just a one-time deal. The books are the result of a writing
contest and are not being released in print form.

Random is the first large publisher to announce a promotion involving
unencrypted ebooks, but the publisher emphasized that it did not
expect to pursue this idea and would continue releasing ebooks in
various encrypted formats. Fictionwise, though, sees in this something
different – the beginning of an industry realization that easy and
unprotected is (contrary to many large-publisher and public-health
messages) the way to go.

“Unencrypted outsells encrypted, even though you could argue the
encrypted gets 100 times the publicity,” says Fictionwise co-founder
Scott Pendergast. “We’d like to see a lot of publishers sell authors in
[unencrypted] formats. But these are baby steps.” He says the company has
experienced very little piracy with unprotected titles.

Indeed, theirs is not an Open Source ethos – give it all away, hope
a few will get bought – but rather is motivated by notions of
customer-friendliness. Says Pendergast: “There’s a very large
percentage of buyers who will not buy encrypted titles, mostly because
of ease-of-use or they’re worried they are buying a title that will
not be supported in a few years.”

Hopefully these three books will do well enough that the bean counters at Macmillan will ask a few probing questions about what they’re doing, what their assumptions are about ebooks, and what the market really wants.

3 comments on “Random House starting to figure out ebooks?

  1. As the author of one of the books in question (Thagoth), I have to say that whatever sells more books is good, whatever doesn’t is Not Good. I’ve watched Thagoth climb into the ranks of the best-sellers at Fictionwise & Palm Digital Media these past couple of weeks. I mean, it’s a surreal feeling, seeing my name next to Mike Resnick and Stephen King, let me tell you. Sure, part of that might be the price ($2.99 is a bargain, however you look at it) but the lack of encryption is a part of it, too. How big a part may be debatable, but it isn’t ignorable.
    My $.02….

  2. I purchased an ebook reader thru ebook.com and was told I could buy thousands of unencrypted book titles off of fictionwise.com. Not knowing what i was doing (I should have researched further-thats my fault) I purchased the reader. I was told any of the books from fictionwise would be readable thru my device. Just since December of 2004, the selection of unencryped books has went down drastically. I haven’t baught a selection in over a month because I can’t find anything but junk that is unencrypted.
    I believe selling unencryped books is a great idea! I have no intentions of passing them off to anyone else. I just want to use the device I paid for-I don’t want it to rot in the closet!!!

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