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Booked Solid

Three giants expand their e-publishing horizons

An ecclectic array of e-publishers has blossomed online in recent years. But until last week, no major traditional house has trotted out a full line of e-books.

On July 31, Random House, whose pursuit of the e-books market has, until now, been limited to investments in such Web publishing firms as Xlibris and Audible.com, announced the creation of a full-blown e-books imprint, AtRandom.

The next day, Time Warner Trade Publishing, which introduced its e-books arm, iPublish.com, in May, struck back with an announcement of its own.

IPublish will issue a raft of books online-many of them likely bestsellers in hardcover. It’s the most formal roster of e-books to date, providing prices (some are free, some cost as much as $14.95), and release dates timed, whenever possible, to coincide with each book’s hardcover publication date.

The iPublish list includes:

  • Sandra Brown’s new thriller, “The Switch,” which will appear both in hardcover and in electronic formats. Her previous bestseller, “The Alibi,” will also make its debut as an e-book.

  • Nicholas Sparks’ “The Rescue,” due in hardcover and digital format, along with the release of Sparks’ entire backlist online.

  • David Foster Wallace’s nonfiction account of John McCain’s primary campaign, “Up, Simba!,” which will appear only online.

Next year’s news

AtRandom will launch a few months later. Starting in early 2001, under the stewardship of Random veep and senior editor Jonathan Karp, AtRandom will publish new work by well-established writers exclusively in electronic form. Each book will also be sold in paperback, print-on-demand format, but won’t be shipped to bookshelves in a traditional ink-and-paper package.

AtRandom’s list includes:

  • “Out There: One Man’s Fearless Search for the Funniest Person on the Internet,” by humorist Henry Alford;

  • “The Secret of Life: Common Sense Advice for Uncommon People” by “Prozac Nation” author Elizabeth Wurtzel;

  • “Lost in Mongolia: Travels in Hollywood and Other Foreign Lands,” by New Yorker writer Tad Friend;

  • “Men Seeking Women: Love and Sex Online,” a collection of short fiction about Internet relationships, by such writers as Po Bronson, Richard Dooling and Gary Krist.

Random House also unveiled plans to launch the Modern Library online in the fall. The house plans to make 100 books bearing that distinguished imprint available for the first time in downloadable form.

The AtRandom and iPublish lists will be downloadable in different formats from a range of online retailers, but the number of consumers willing to view these books online remains to be seen.

* * *

‘Starship’ Troopers

Showtime has inked a deal with Necaster Icebox.com to license “Starship Regulars,” an animated comedy series about the lives of ordinary men and women aboard a military spaceship. It will air on the cable network and later be developed into a live action strip.

“Starship” is the first Internet series to make the transition to traditional television.

Show was created by Rob LaZebnik (co-executive producer of “The Simpsons,” “Empty Nest” and an Icebox co-founder).

Next June, Showtime will turn the strip into a 13 half-hour live action series to be produced by Icebox and exec produced by LaZebnik.

Icebox will receive rights payments, producing fees and backend revenues.

Showtime execs spent the last few months combing through Icebox’s unproduced scripts, concept drawings and unaired pilots, as well as already streamed shows.

* * *

Universal Feeling Blue

Universal Music Group has begun trials of a digital music format called Bluematter which will offer Netizens music files and informational content over the Web.

Songs in the Bluematter format come with enhanced content, such as biographies, photographs, lyrics and credits. Users can access files with RealNetworks’ RealPlayer software. InterTrust Technology will provide encryption software that prevents the songs from being pirated.

The label will initially offer 60 songs from artists including Blink 182, 98 Degrees and Smash Mouth, with more songs to be added over time. Users will receive $4 credit when they log on the site to download the songs.

The trial service will be available through select music and retail sites and will allow UMG to test strategies for future businesses. Universal becomes the third of the five major labels to offer part of their catalog online.

* * *

Short People

Netcaster iCast.com has purchased indie film site Shortbuzz.com, increasing its library of shorts by 400 titles.

Shortbuzz was founded last year for filmmakers who want to Netcast shorts without being tied down by an exclusivity agreement with any one Web site.

ICast recently inked a syndication deal with FX skein “The X Show” under which films from the site will be featured on the program.

ICast is in a strategic partnership with AMG under which the two companies will produce content together while AMG will get a first-look deal at talent that appears on the site.

Netcaster was founded by incubator CMGI, which is also funding search engine AltaVista and auction site uBid.com.

* * *

Toons on Demand

Animation vets David Burke and Eli Balser have bowed StickyFlicks.com, a site that will feature Webtoons developed by Bill Schwab (“Beavis and Butthead,”) Kelly Armstrong (“Ren & Stimpy”) and Greg Emison (“Cow and Chicken”)

Burke, founder of Plum Loco Productions, and Balser, formerly of MTV Animation and Klasky-Csupo, founded the Netco in February after receiving $700,000 in funding from Chris Anderson, founder and CEO of Imagine Media.

Webtoons on StickyFlicks will be under three minutes in length and will be bowing at a rate of one per week by the end of August.

Included on the site are “Vi & Marge,” a tribute to the cross-country trucker lifestyle; “Tasteless Joke Theater,”; “Jarnak — The Jive-Ass Jerk From Jupiter” and “Mr. Pants.”

Interactive games will also be available on the site.

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