NEW YORK (03/05/99) - Monica's story was born on the Internet. So it seems fitting that "Monica's Story" yesterday became the first book offered for physical sale and electronic download simultaneously -- give or take a few hours.
Actually, the electronic download didn't show up on Barnesandnoble.com -- for now the exclusive retailer for Rocket eBooks -- until about 10 a.m. EST, a few hours after many East Coast bookstores had already begun selling copies. The publisher "didn't release the electronic version before this morning's street date so that's when we got it," explains a Barnesandnoble.com spokesman.
Still, the same-day release of "Monica's Story" in electronic and paper forms represents a milestone in the nascent electronic book publishing industry. Martin Eberhard, the CEO and cofounder of Rocket eBook creator NuvoMedia, says his products are now "on equal footing with paper books."
Customers on Barnesandnoble.com who have the Rocket eBook hardware can download electronic editions of "Monica's Story" for US$14.97, which represents a 40 percent discount from the $24.95 cover price -- the same price Barnesandnoble.com customers would pay for the hardbound edition. Rocket downloaders would, moreover, save a few dollars in shipping and handling costs.
Barnesandnoble.com would not release specific sale figures, but a spokesman said that "Monica's Story" was selling at a faster pace than any electronic book in the medium's half-year history.
Strangely, Barnesandnoble.com did not take advance orders for the electronic version of "Monica's Story." In fact, the site did not even notify potential downloaders of "Monica's Story" that it would be available electronically until it actually was. A spokeswoman for NuvoMedia says publishers have still not worked out procedures that would allow advance orders of Rocket editions. Both Amazon.com Inc. and Barnesandnoble.com allowed visitors to order advance copies of the hardback; indeed, the book became Amazon.com's No. 1 best-seller before it was even available.
NuvoMedia has published 346 other books in Rocket editions. Like a regular book distributor, the company buys the electronic publishing rights from book publishers, making money from a percentage of the sales. So far, sales of electronic books have been minimal. Few places sell the Rocket eBook hardware -- which retails for a little under $500 -- and only a few thousand copies have sold. At the moment, Barnesandnoble.com is the only place where Rocket eBooks can be purchased. Other electronic publishers have their own distribution centers; the SoftBookstore currently offers a little more than 100 titles plus periodicals.
Despite having such a tiny presence in the multibillion-dollar book market, however, electronic books are expected to have a deep impact on some publishing sectors in the next few years. The cover story of the March 18 "New York Review of Books," for example, is an essay by Princeton historian Robert Darnton entitled "The New Age of the E-Book." In it, Darnton predicts that electronic books will greatly revitalize the field of academic and university presses. (Darnton does not, however, discuss "Monica's Story.") The essay is available online at http://www.nybooks.com/.