Conglom seeks slice of book publishing biz

Steve Jobs has been courting studios for a few months. Now he may be courting print media.

Reports in the techno-blogosphere indicate book publishers and Apple are beginning to tango. A story in tech-blog Endgadget cited “two bits from separate, trustworthy insiders” that book publishers have been shipping content to Apple.

Jobs’ company may even be developing an iPod with more reader-friendly screen space, the report said.

Book bizzers were mum about the subject Monday, reflecting the typical fears about new digital models, residual unease over the ebook hype of seven years ago and anxiety over Apple’s approach to fixed pricing.

“We’re a business that, even more than the music industry, likes to control our content and likes to control our prices,” said one, noting Apple’s reputation for wielding its clout on the latter. Indeed, price increases are responsible for a lot of the growth in the industry.

That said, publishers can’t exactly ignore the example of the music biz, where thanks to iTunes the digital business is growing at a faster rate than the traditional CD business is shrinking. Already Apple has a deal with audiobook company Audible.

And while none of the major publishers would admit to meeting with Apple, the industry has been on high alert since a Google program blindsided it last year. It is more likely to be proactive about digital downloads than in the past.

In the meantime, publishers are waiting for the newest technology, a much-hyped, and oft-delayed, eBook reader from Sony. Said one exec: “We’re all in the middle of digitizing our content, and figuring out what to do with it.”

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