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Books go digital (well maybe not the racy ones)

December 23, 2008 |  2:25 pm

Books
If you're one of those people who still goes to bookstores to buy books and likes curling up by the yule log with a trashy romance novel you can then burn after reading, you might be becoming a little bit uncool. Sorry, bookworms, but the digital age is upon us. And thanks to the popularity of the Sony Reader, Amazon Kindle and even the iPhone, more and more people are reading books digitally.

Publishers such as Random House, HarperCollins and Houghton Mifflin have started to make their books available digitally, with HarperCollins even digitizing thousands of its books on a website where readers can browse inside the book, and in some cases, read the whole thing. Ebook sales increased 58% from last year, said Tina Jordan, a spokeswoman for the American Assn. of Publishers.

"It's been building up gradually for a long time, but the combination of the Kindle and the iPhone has put a hypodermic needle into the body of publishing," said Mike Shatzkin, founder of Idea Logical Co., a publishing industry consultancy.

For the first time, publishers are starting to see digital books as a viable business, said David Langevin, vice president and director of electronic markets at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Of course, with any new technology, there are a few bumps on the road. David Carnoy, a CNet editor, submitted his book, "Knife Music," to be included in the App store. According to CNet, Apple rejected it, saying it contained "objectionable content." The content in question involved a four-letter word being used as a verb. Because this is a family-friendly blog, you'll have to check out the CNet story if you want more details.

Ah, Apple. You're shooting yourself in the foot. According to Shatzkin, romance publishers are one of the fastest-selling categories of e-books. Women and men bored at work can go to sites such as  eharlequin.com and tear through books such as "The Virgin's Prince" about an Australian millionaire who, to his shock and awe, marries a virgin.

So, Apple, what's it going to be? Can tempestuous and hotheaded Mia Forrester and millionaire Bryn Dwyer roll around on the beach on the digital pages of books in the App store? Or is that objectionable content? Apple will have to decide whether romance readers will be able to live happily ever after.

-- Alana Semuels

Photo: Paperbacks might be bound for the dustbin as publishers digitize more books. Credit: Alana Semuels / Los Angeles Times

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