updated 8/3/2006 11:55:06 AM ET 2006-08-03T15:55:06

HarperCollins, which announced last year that it was digitizing its vast catalog, has set up a "Browse Inside" program that will allow readers worldwide to view online excerpts from books by Michael Crichton, Isabel Allende and several other writers.

"We see it as the next step," HarperCollins president and CEO Jane Friedman told The Associated Press during a recent interview.

Readers wanting to view — but not download — a sample of Crichton's "Prey" or other selected works can visit the HarperCollins Web site and, eventually, the sites of authors and retailers. Friedman is also hoping to establish links with MySpace and other online social networkers.

HarperCollins already participates in Amazon.com's "Search Inside!", a similar program to "Browse Inside," but sees the new initiative as another way of ensuring control of its content at a time when Google Inc. and others are establishing vast online databases of books.

"Browse Inside" formally launched Thursday and the publisher expects to greatly expand its program over the following year. Friedman said the amount of text available from a given book will depend in part on the author's wishes. "Right now, we plan on letting readers view about 5 percent of a book online, but I could imagine some writers wanting to make more available, or even an entire book," she said.

While Friedman says she's determined to make HarperCollins, a unit of News Corp., the "No. 1" online marketer among publishers, she has no plans to become an online retailer. Pearson PLC's Penguin Group USA, Bertelsmann AG's Random House Inc., and other publishers have been selling their books directly to readers, a policy that has angered booksellers.

"We see no reason to duplicate a service that our friends in the retail business already do quite well," she said.

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