Random House, the country's largest trade publisher, has started a new electronic imprint that will exclusively use such digital formats as e-books and print-on-demand.
"We see the business going in this direction and we want to establish a beachhead," said Jonathan Karp, publisher of the new imprint, called AtRandom. "Imagine all these teen-agers literally growing up online. It's highly likely they'll want to read books that way."
AtRandom plans to release about 20 titles beginning next winter, including a biography of the hockey star Mark Messier and a collection of essays by Harper's editor Lewis Lapham.
This fall, another Random House imprint, the Modern Library, will issue 100 classic works electronically, including James Joyce's Ulysses and Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time.
Over the past year, the bookselling industry has become increasingly computerized. Publishers have been digitizing their catalogues, stores are establishing Web sites and authors such as Stephen King have sold books exclusively through the Internet.
This spring, Time Warner established a digital imprint, Xlibris.
Constance Sayre, director of the industry newsletter Publishing Trends, said the formation of AtRandom was an "inevitable step."
Books are traditionally shipped first to stores and then sold, but electronic titles work in the opposite way. They can either be downloaded as e-books or custom ordered via print-on-demand.
"Print-on-demand is definitely a more efficient way to publish," Karp said. "A lot of the authors we're publishing were swayed by the availability of print-on-demand for their books."
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