Amazon to Sell Full Books, or a Few Pages, Online

Amazon has announced plans to allow consumers to view books — or just small portions of books — online for a fee. Amazon says it will let publishers decide whether the books should be printed or downloaded.

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Amazon.com has done a lot to shake up the book-selling business, and now it wants to shake things up a lot more. The online retailer announced yesterday that it will soon allow customers to view books, or just small portions of books, online for a fee. But as NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, it's not clear how much of a market there is for the service.

JIM ZARROLI reporting:

Amazon made its mark by selling books over the Internet and shipping them to its customers. The new services would do away with the FedEx truck. One program called Amazon Pages is a kind of iTunes for books. Customers will be able to download an entire book or just a few pages of one. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Mr. JEFF BEZOS (Amazon): It is giving customers unusual flexibility, and as a result when you give customers unusual flexibility, interesting and new things happen; sometimes they're even surprising. So we'll get to see how customers use that unusual flexibility, what readers do with it. We find that very exciting.

ZARROLI: Amazon will also launch a second product called Amazon Upgrade, which will allow people to access a book online if they've already purchased it. For instance, someone who is reading a novel but misplaces it would be able to finish it online. Mark Mahaney is an analyst at Citigroup Global Markets.

Mr. MARK MAHANEY (Citigroup Global Markets): What they're trying to do is figure out incremental revenue streams around the sale of a book, and things like Amazon Upgrade, things like Amazon Pages--I mean, they make sense.

ZARROLI: But no one really knows how much of a market there is for downloaded books. Fordham University's Albert Greco, an expert on the publishing industry, says there are already Web sites that allow people to download books that are in the public domain, and they haven't been heavily used.

Dr. ALBERT GRECO (Fordham University): Right now consumers seem completely indifferent, and there have been initiatives to sell content online and basically they've faltered, and it's unlikely in the next five to probably 10 years that you're going to see a migration away from print--books, magazines and newspapers.

ZARROLI: If the program does succeed, Amazon will probably face some competition. Google now offers users access to books online, although it doesn't sell the books outright. Google's program has been challenged in court by authors and publishers groups who say it's a copyright infringement. Amazon is negotiating with publishers to gain access to books. Although publishers have been receptive to the idea, it's unclear how much the service will cost or how much Amazon will make on each sale. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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