I am quite impressed by a recent (read: I have not checked the website for over a year) face lift of Webscriptions (Wikipedia article, official site). It's a perfect example of how a supposedly 'old' business (in this case, book publisher) can be revamped and succesfully grow in the era of the Internet.
Baen Free Library (Wikipedia article, official site) was of course the start. Bean only gave away samples of each book (close to the first half is usually free), but they actually give free ebooks of dozen of books in their free library; attach cds with even more books to every hardcover - and make them downloadedable online. Long story short, they discovered that they can attract many new readers that way, readers who will be willing to pay for printed books, and even pay extra for special ebooks (one of the most interesting innovations is what they call ARC - Advanced Reader Copies; for the cost of 25$ you can follow the draft of the book as it is being written!). You can find more information following the links above, but Baen revenues (and those of their authors) have been steadily rising. The more stuff they give away for free, the more money they make. A sign of new era, certainly - and of a wise business strategy embracing the new era. Oh, and did I mention that Baen gives you a wide choice of ebook format, including plain txt and html with no copy protection? Yes, they do believe in viral marketing (and you know what? It works, as seen on this very example :D).
But anyway this is a bit off topic, as I was going to write about the interesting twists of the webscription website. So, what can a book publisher do in the era of the Internet?
RSS enabled news. Whenever a new book, special offer or such are available, why not deliver that info to the willing consumers. Easily accessible catalogue, by author, category, publisher. A basic search option for other stuff. And perhaps the most innovative and so obvious in retrospective - ability to rate books and write your own reviews (example). If it works for Amazon, why not for the publisher who wants to sell books and bypass the middleman?
I see great future for Baen Books under such management. Companies who will be able to utilize Internet in such innovative ways will reap great rewards. Others... not so much.
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