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Barnes&Noble.com lures big-name authors with digital imprint

The online bookseller pushes deeper into electronic publishing, creating a new division geared to entice big-name authors with higher royalty fees and to jump-start the fledgling electronic books market.

Online bookseller Barnes&Noble.com pushed deeper into electronic publishing on Thursday, creating a new division geared to entice big-name authors with higher royalty fees and to jump-start the fledgling electronic books market.

The new imprint, Barnes & Noble Digital, plans to give authors an opportunity to sidestep the traditional publishing process where the major houses tightly control distribution and marketing, the company said. Barnes & Noble Digital aims to provide authors with services like editorial support, online sales monitoring, and prominent exposure on its eBookStore e-commerce site.

The imprint will offer its first selection of works this spring, including the first original title developed by the new imprint, "The Book of Counted Sorrows," by best-selling author Dean Koontz.

Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting), one of the Big Five consulting companies, last year projected that the e-books market will be 10 percent of the entire publishing market by 2004. Although e-publishing is projected to grow into a major force, authors and publishers have been concerned about piracy and security issues and are still waiting for standard technologies to emerge.

Barnes&Noble.com said authors' works will be available in all major existing electronic book formats and any new ones that are developed.

The royalty-fee structure proposed by Barnes & Noble Digital may help attract some authors who don't command the bargaining power of star authors like Stephen King. The division said it will pay authors a royalty fee of 35 percent of the retail sale price sold through its online eBookStore or through its affiliate network. Authors will also receive 50 percent of the net revenues received by Barnes&Noble.com from sales through third parties.

The previous highest royalty paid to authors for electronic books was 25 percent, according to The New York Times.

Robert Gottlieb, Koontz's literary agent, said that this structure for electronic publishing will result in "good business for authors."

Online publishing made some major strides last year. The nascent market got a big boost last spring when more than 400,000 copies of King's 66-page novella, "Riding the Bullet," were downloaded in less than 24 hours.

That momentum was carried forward when Microsoft announced it was teaming with Viacom's Simon & Schuster, Barnes&Noble.com and Random House to offer books via its Pocket PC operating system. Time Warner, which is involved in a pending merger with America Online, got into the digital-reading game as well, saying it will use Microsoft's display technology for the iRead channel of its new iPublish.com venture.