Several big-box retailers scared the hell out of book publishers two weeks ago by announcing they'd be selling popular hardcover books below cost. Fearing that the discounts would put permanent downward pressure on book prices, the American Booksellers Association tried to combat the price-war by writing a legally toothless complaint to the Department of Justice, calling the loss-leaders "anticompetitive."
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It doesn't look like the DOJ is about to step in, so it's a good thing that some publishing companies are finding free-market solutions to the problem. Simon & Schuster has begun selling individual e-chapters of its "You" series of books, written by Doctors Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz (the latter, also Oprah's TV doctor-personality, pictured above). Since the books work just as well piecemeal as they do as a collection, S&S figured they could sell specific sections through a Web widget, allowing customers to buy only the section of the book they need. The per-chapter sales strategy shadows one initiated in early 2008 by Random House, which decided to sell six chapters and an epilogue of Dan Heath's and Chip Heath's Made to Stick for $2.99.
Publishers Weekly says the idea grew out of an effort to expand (and apparently monetize) the "Ask Dr. Oz" section of that author's Web site. Prices for the chapters are about $2 or $3, and they'll come with DRM installed to prevent piracy. S&S says they'll bring the e-chapter model to other book sites, and even plans to make the widgets available to other publishers.