iPublish is both an early effort by a large book publisher to use the Internet to expand its talent pool and also AOL Time Warner's initial step into the market for digital book distribution.
Susan Kevorkian, analyst at IDC, said while the digital book content industry and e-book device industry are still new and awareness of digital books is growing slowly among consumers, publishers need to differentiate themselves by developing their e-book selection.
"It's good that more publishers are getting out there with digital content, but in general most of the digital content available now is still very much geared toward popular fiction and non-fiction titles," Kevorkian said. "I'm looking forward to the point where the quantity of digital books start to look like what you would find in a library."
The company is not alone in testing online publishing. Other booksellers and book publishers including Barnes&Noble.com, Viacom's Simon & Schuster and Bertelsmann's Random House have begun exploring the Internet for ways to enhance their publishing businesses.
The primary service on iPublish is called iWrite, which enlists aspiring authors to sift through the work of their fellow hopefuls. To have works accepted onto iWrite, a candidate first must review at least three excerpts by other authors. The candidate's own excerpt can then be posted. If it garners sufficient praise, iPublish then may publish the entire manuscript as an e-book or let online readers print the work.
Submissions also have the chance to become published through Time Warner Trade Publishing, AOL Time Warner's nationwide book-publishing arm.
"By placing priority on merit rather than connections, we will be able to give the best writers the attention they deserve," Greg Voynow, senior vice president and general manager of iPublish.com, said in a statement.
Aside from the section for unpublished writers, the site will feature works from current Time Warner writers that people can purchase for download or print. Authors in the iRead section include Nelson DeMille, James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks, David Baldacci, Michael Connelly, Brad Meltzer, Anita Shreve and Sandra Brown.
iPublish announced in August that it would use Adobe eBook Reader, Gemstar's Rocket eBook, Glassbook and Microsoft Reader to distribute its electronic books. Many of these electronic publications will be available through e-commerce partners including Barnes&Noble.com, Amazon.com, Palm eBookstore, Borders and Contentville.
Staff Writer Gwendolyn Mariano contributed to this story.