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HarperCollins to offer free book content online

Advertiser-supported program will feature select works
/ Source: The Associated Press

At a time when publishers are suing to prevent Google from putting excerpts of copyrighted books online, HarperCollins has started an advertiser-supported program that will offer a free look at the full text of selected works.

The Harper program, announced Monday, is being launched with Bruce Judson’s “Go It Alone! The Secret to Building a Successful Business on Your Own.” The book was published in hardcover at the end of 2004, and recently came out as a paperback. Anyone who wants to read the whole text can visit the author’s Web site,

“We hope this pilot will demonstrate a win-win for publishers, authors and search engines. The new era does not need to be a zero sum game,” HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman said Monday in a statement.

Judson’s Web site includes, ironically, “Ads by Google,” a column on the left hand side of the book’s text with links to publishing and business-oriented sites. The Author’s Guild and the Association of American Publishers each have filed lawsuits against Google, alleging that the Internet giant’s “Google Print Library Project” is illegally scanning and indexing copyrighted works for the Internet.

“This has always been an issue about control, who gets to decide what gets put online,” Brian Murray, group president of HarperCollins, said of the legal battles. With control of its books in mind, HarperCollins announced late last year that it was digitizing its vast catalog.

There has been disagreement in the publishing community over the effects of making material available on the Internet. Some worry about online piracy and about readers simply downloading the text, as opposed to paying for it.

Murray told The Associated Press that a measure of the Harper program’s success will be whether “the new revenue stream” of advertising money compensates for any lost sales. He said that Harper will likely concentrate on nonfiction and reference works.

“I don’t think advertisers are clamoring to place ads around literary fiction,” he said.

But several writers, including marketer Seth Godin and science fiction author Cory Doctorow, have made a point of offering free content online, believing that it helps sales. M.J. Rose, a marketing expert and author of “Lip Service” among other novels, praised HarperCollins for its “smart” initiative.

“We all know that readers don’t want to read the whole book online,” Rose said. “But as Seth Godin proved with ‘Unleashing the Idea Virus’ — people will start a book on line and if they get hooked — click over and purchase it.”