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Book buyers, soon you'll be able to pay by the page.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Book buyers, soon you’ll be able to pay by the page.

With its new Amazon Pages service, Inc. plans to let customers to buy portions of a book — even just one page — for online viewing. A second program, Amazon Upgrade, will offer full online access when a traditional text is purchased.

Both services are expected to begin next year.

“We see this as a win-win-win situation: good for readers, good for publishers and good for authors,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told The Associated Press on Thursday.

For Amazon Pages, Bezos said, the cost for most books would be a few cents per page, although readers would likely be charged more for specialized reference works. Under Amazon Upgrade, anybody purchasing a paper book could also look at the entire text online, at any time, for a “small” additional charge, Bezos said. For instance, a $20 book might cost an extra $1.99.

Copyright holders would determine whether the pages could be printed or downloaded.

“We feel strongly that copyright holders get to make these decisions,” Bezos said.

The Amazon announcement came on the same day that Google Inc. began serving up the entire contents of books and government documents that aren’t entangled in a copyright battle over how much material can be scanned and indexed from five major libraries.

The Authors Guild and five major publishers are suing to prevent Google from scanning copyrighted material in the libraries without explicit permission. Because it plans to show only snippets from copyrighted books, Google argues its scanning project constitutes “fair use” of the material.

“The Amazon programs are the way copyright is supposed to work,” the Authors Guild’s executive director, Paul Aiken, said Thursday. “You provide access to readers and some compensation flows back to rights holders. It seems like a positive development.”

Google reportedly has also been interested in selling individual pages of text. A spokesman for the Internet search giant, Nathan Tyler, said Thursday, that Google “is exploring new access models to help authors and publishers sell more books online but we don’t have anything to announce.”

Simon & Schuster spokesman Adam Rothberg said his company had been talking to Amazon, Google and others about pay-per-page and other programs, but added that no commitments had been made. Amazon issued a statement of support Thursday from Holtzbrinck Publishers LLC, which owns Farrar, Straus & Giroux, St. Martin’s Press and several other publishers.

“We look forward to working together with Amazon as they develop these innovative new programs to expand the market for digital content,” said Holtzbrinck CEO John Sargent.

Meanwhile, Random House Inc. released a statement Thursday saying it will “work with online booksellers, search engines, entertainment portals and other appropriate vendors to offer the contents of its books to consumers for online viewing on a pay-per-page-view basis.”

Random House, the country’s largest general trade publisher, listed a number of “key components” for any deal, including that “Books will be available for full indexing, search and display” and “No downloading, printing or copying will be permitted.”

Richard Sarnoff, president of the Random House corporate development group, said in an interview that the publisher had already been talking to a number of vendors, but expects Amazon to be the first to sell Random House books on a per-page basis.

Sarnoff was generally favorable to Amazon Pages — “We think it’s a great idea and hope it’s implemented as brilliantly as it’s intended” — but said the publisher was concerned about Amazon Upgrade.

“We’re worried about pricing. We will not participate on the basis of some small, incremental charge,” said Sarnoff, emphasizing that publishers set suggested prices. “We think digital text has real value and we’re not interested in making it just this adjunct to the print product.”

The new Amazon programs are an extension of the company’s “Search Inside the Book,” which lets users browse a book’s contents for free. Over the summer, the company also launched Amazon Shorts, which offers brief, original fiction and nonfiction for 49 cents each.