Q&A: This Summer, eBooks Are Free

REDMOND, Wash., July 2, 2003 — Upon their introduction in the late 1990s, eBooks were touted by technology aficionados as the future of reading. Well-publicized eBook releases by authors such as Stephen King, and electronic availability of titles by authors such as V.C. Andrews, Dean Koontz, Michael Crichton, Jane Goodall and others, pointed to a bright future for digital publishing.

Cliff Guren, Microsoft Group Product Manager, eReading.

Today, more titles than ever are available, by even more top-flight authors. Publishers and independent sources report continually growing adoption and sales figures, and now typically offer electronic releases of prominent titles to coincide with print releases. More and more sources of eBooks appear throughout the Internet — including the Web sites of the major national bookstores, a broad selection of independent booksellers, and the Web sites of the publishers themselves. And every year more devices are developed that help make eBooks more accessible and more satisfying.

Skeptics and die-hard print bibliophiles still point out that eBooks have not necessarily lived up to the initial hype the medium received. While a library of a few hundred leather-bound volumes may look more impressive than a Tablet PC loaded with a few hundred eBooks, sales data nonetheless shows that people — including authors — are increasingly coming to appreciate the convenience and enhanced reading experience offered by eBooks.

Hoping to encourage more avid readers to try eBooks, Microsoft this summer will offer a series of compelling best-sellers in the Microsoft Reader eBook format for download at no charge. Some 60 premier fiction, non-fiction and reference titles — from authors such as Amy Tan, Bill Bryson, Margaret Atwood, Elmore Leonard, Walter Mosley, Douglas Adams and John Updike — will be available from the Microsoft Reader Web site, starting July 4.

Cliff Guren , group product manager for eReading at Microsoft, told PressPass recently that Microsoft worked out distribution details with a number of top-name publishers to make these books available to people using the free Microsoft Reader application.

PressPass: Let’s talk first about the summer reading promotion by Microsoft.

Guren: For about 20 weeks, beginning this week, Microsoft is making three front-list book titles available for free download each week. There are fiction titles by great contemporary authors such as Amy Tan, John Updike, and Walter Mosley, as well great nonfiction titles, like Bill Bryson’s current best seller,
“A Short History of Nearly Everything.”
Each will be available for a week at the Microsoft Reader home page for free download by users of Microsoft Reader. Recent surveys of Microsoft Reader users indicate that people say we deliver a good product. Our goal with this promotion is to get more people exposed to this technology. We’re convinced that once they try it, they will become regular eBook readers and buyers.

PressPass: Why is Microsoft doing this promotion?

Guren: Microsoft is making the investment in these first-class eBook titles to show more people that the eBook is fully capable of delivering a satisfying reading experience. The caliber of these titles and authors is such that people who have never used an eBook will try it because they can’t pass up a chance at getting these books for free. Then they’ll see how easy and convenient the eBook format is and use it for more of their reading.

PressPass: How do people go about downloading and reading these eBooks?

Guren: First, they’ll need an MSN Passport, which is free, and Microsoft Reader, our eBook reading sofware, which is also free. Microsoft Reader is available for download at www.microsoft.com/reader. Note that it’s important for the consumer to have the latest version of Microsoft Reader, which was released last week — they’ll need to download either the complete version or just the update, depending on whether they have an earlier version of Reader. This latest version contains links to better online assistance that helps consumers get started more easily, and also contains improved security that helps protect copyrighted content.

You simply download Microsoft Reader and activate it, which is itself a simple one-time process. Activation just means that you use your Passport log-in, then automatically authenticate your machine so that copyright protection mechanisms are properly set up. After you’ve activated Reader, go to the Microsoft Reader Web site, go to the download area and choose the books you’d like to read. Every week there will be an updated selection of new eBooks available.

PressPass: And these are premier book titles?

Guren: Absolutely — these are not public domain books or titles you could download for free anywhere else. We’re also creating a Microsoft Reader newsletter in partnership with FictionWise, one of the leading independent eBook retailers. This new weekly newsletter will tell users about upcoming titles in the Microsoft free promotion, as well as new commercial releases.

PressPass: Will readers need specific hardware to read these books, or just Microsoft Reader?

Guren: Microsoft Reader supports desktop and laptop PCs, as well as Tablet PC, and Pocket PC. In other words, anyone who has a Windows-based device can use Reader. Most people find the Tablet and Pocket PC experiences most satisfying, mainly due to the portability factor.

PressPass: What is the eBook market like currently?

Guren: All of our publishing partners are reporting substantial growth in eBook sales — most of them double-digit growth over the past year The eBook market was really hyped at its beginning, and suffered when the rest of the e-business marketplace went through its downturn a couple years ago. But since the beginning of the year, eBooks have begun to come back and now show good, positive growth. No one is saying the eBook will completely overtake the printed book, or pBook; print books have been a part of human history for too long for them to just disappear. But we believe the eBook is going to be a vital part of the publishing landscape. The work we’re doing at Microsoft with Reader is laying groundwork for that, and the progress we’ve made with the eBook experience is substantial.

The benefits people find from eBooks are things like portability and ease of access — you can carry a tremendous number of eBooks on your portable device. It also helps people who take advantage of the digital lifestyle integrate another experience into that lifestyle. For those people, eBooks become another part of their complete digital media library, so to speak, along with music, video, multimedia, games, and so on, that they enjoy on their PC or portable devices.

PressPass: Are publishers coming around to more acceptance of the eBook format?

Guren: Most of them do see the benefits of it and consider eBooks a viable part of their marketing and sales mix. Some publishers use the eBook format to more quickly distribute particular titles, or get titles out in advance of the print format. Some publishers are still a bit wary, but others who have taken advantage of the eBook format have found it beneficial. Many are working to incorporate eBooks into their business model as another avenue of potential profit.

More and more, we are seeing publishers adopting a marketing strategy of simultaenously releasing a new title in both print and eBook versions. A number of current New York Times bestsellers are available right now for Microsoft Reader, including
“The DaVinci Code”
by Dan Brown,
“Living History”
by Hillary Rodham Clinton,
“Who’s Your Caddy”
by Rick Reilly,
by David Halberstam, and
“The Lake House”
by James Patterson. That speaks to the increasing value that publishers are placing on eBooks.

Consumers find that eBook prices in most cases are below that of the print book. What’s more, some eBooks have special features — many publishers have taken to creating unique content for their eBook editions that’s not in their print books, such as interviews with authors, notes, additional illustrations, and more. Many publishers are finding ways to make the eBook experience unique in ways not feasible in print format.

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