What's On Line?
Peer into today's kaleidescope of online booksellers
By Tatyana Sinioukov
Now that more and more bookstores have ".com" in their addresses, physical books are being replaced by e-books that have no spines and no pages you can turn by hand--and they aren't even made of paper. Well, everyone knows that. However, what is fascinating to witness is how both traditional and electronic publishers show great creativity in the way they sell their wares on the Web. As the listing beginning at right illustrates, the emerging business models for selling books online grow more varied and inventive by the day.
An example of one company that is tirelessly trying on many hats is Versaware, a New York City-based Internet publisher and software developer. Its notion of what publishing encompasses today is summarized in its tagline, as explained by Tina Ravitz, chief operating officer: "E-Publishing for an I-World," where "E" stands for "electronic," "enhanced" and "educational," and "I" stands for the "Internet," but also "interactivity," "information" and "individual."
Versaware provides electronic publishing services with a focus on the educational market by transforming books into multimedia documents available on CD-ROM that are sold packaged together with printed textbooks. The company developed the Versabook format, which is Open eBook-compliant and downloadable to PalmPilot, SoftBook and similar devices. Versaware has distribution deals with ZD Net and BarnesandNoble.com to sell e-books through downloads and on CD-ROM or DVD. Versaware's publishing clients include Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Funk & Wagnalls and Simon & Schuster Interactive. The company recently launched a beta site, ebookcity.com, which is home to a bookstore with over 1,700 titles--some free--available for download or on CD-ROM.
While offering public domain titles and print-on-demand capabilities seems to be common among the online booksellers, the way Versaware crisscrosses the traditional and electronic media to attract audiences is notable. For example, when a customer buys a textbook/CD-ROM package and registers with Versaware to use the CD, he or she is immediately eligible to open an account on ebookcity.com. The site has "My Library," a free feature that allows customers to register and then build their own URLs and store the titles they purchase or download for free on their custom-built "shelves." "My Library" is accessible from any computer, which, Ravitz suggests, may come in handy for travelers.