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Random House strikes e-book deal with Terra Lycos

The publisher and the Internet company unveil a new e-books marketplace from which users can download a selection of more than 100 classic works of literature.

As consumers slowly turn the pages of the unfolding story of electronic books, new online ventures thicken the plot.

Internet company Terra Lycos, just formed last month, and book publisher Random House on Thursday unveiled a new e-books marketplace from which users can download a selection of more than 100 classic works of literature.

Modern Library, a Random House unit, is providing the first selections for the new marketplace, to be found in the Shop and Entertainment sections of the Lycos Network.

The Modern Library collection, which includes e-book versions of works by James Joyce, Charles Dickens and Walt Whitman, will be available in Adobe Acrobat Reader, Glassbook Reader and Microsoft Reader formats, the Internet company said in a statement.

The deal is the latest example of the ever-growing bond between various units of several companies. Random House is a unit of German media company Bertelsmann, whose BMG unit and Lycos launched a music download service in October. In May, Spain's Terra Networks and Waltham, Mass.-based Lycos--then separate companies just announcing plans to merge--joined Bertelsmann in a five-year agreement to develop tools and services for delivering music, books and other entertainment content.

For Random House, the Lycos e-book deal is the second move this month in its electronic-book publishing initiative. Last week, it announced similar deals with a number of literary Web sites to let Web surfers download e-book editions of Modern Library works.

Meanwhile, retailer Barnes& has announced plans to partner with electronic publisher to sell digitally downloadable and printable e-books.

The efforts by Random House, one of the biggest English language publishers, come as the whole of the publishing industry has begun gearing up for the digital arena with e-book initiatives and experiments that tap the Internet.

So far, though, technology seems to be running far ahead of demand. Fewer than 50,000 electronic reading devices have been sold in the United States to date, according to Internet research company Jupiter Media Metrix. The researcher predicts that during the next several years, sales will be slow--and too meager to support the market--reaching just 1.9 million devices in 2005.