Penguin will become the biggest publisher to sell e-books next month, but in a move uncharacteristic of big business it says that it will allow customers to share the e-books online.
The publishing programme operating under the brand ePenguin, will initially offer a list of 200 books to its Internet customers. The e-books will be available in two formats--Microsoft Reader and Adobe Acrobat. Penguin will not be allowing readers to print copies of the books, but says it is considering which sharing option to use for the service.
"We've opted for Microsoft Reader DRM level 5 which can't be printed or transferred, but Adobe Acrobat has more options for sharing, and we are currently looking at which ones to exploit," said Jeremy Ettinghausen, e-book editor for Penguin.
Penguin is keen to avoid repeating the mistakes of the music industry, where the success of Napster caught the music publishing companies by surprise. "I think we're coming at it with more information and perspective than the music industry was able to do," said Ettinghausen. "The reporting of sales is straightforward, and authors will be receiving comfortable royalties for the e-book sales channel," he added.
The ePenguin initiative will begin next month, and will be offering readers Penguin classic novels for US$1.70 (£2.50), and non-classics such as the Rough Guide travel books for 20 percent of the cover price. "We want our e-books to reflect the breadth of our publishing--science, business and computer titles will be featured in our launch," explained Ettinghausen.
The teen and children's market will be strongly targeted, as the younger generation is more familiar with reading off a screen. But this morning, the UK Publishers Association warned on BBC Radio 4 that children are robbing authors of e-book royalties, by downloading e-books onto their Palm Pilots, and taking them into the playground to show their friends. Penguin may need to target less affluent children in order to avoid such juvenile copyright theft.