Random House e-book change may pave way to iBookstore

In an unexpected about-face, publisher Random House announced on Monday that it would adopt the agency model for e-book sales in the U.S., beginning March 1. This may pave the way for the world’s largest English-language publisher—and the final remaining holdout among the six major publishing houses—to join Apple’s iBookstore.

Under the agency model, publishers set the price for e-book titles with 30 percent of the cost going to the retailer. Sound familiar? That’s the same cut Apple takes of music and apps via its iTunes and App Stores. So, it was perhaps not a surprise that Apple’s iBookstore, launched alongside the iPad last year, also operates under the agency model. Previously, publishers sold titles to retailers for a wholesale price, with the retailers adding a markup of their own.

Shortly before the iPad appeared, Amazon revamped its own e-book model for many titles, giving 70 percent of the revenue to the publisher (which had previously only received 30 percent). Some of the additional stipulations in that deal spawned a fight between Amazon and another major publisher, Macmillan, though the online retail giant eventually conceded.

At the time of the iBookstore launch, five of the six major English-language publishers had signed on with Apple, leaving Random House as the lone exception. That may change with Monday’s news, though a Random House spokesman told Macworld that the announcement does not confirm availability of the publisher’s e-book titles in the iBookstore. Random House’s statement does, however, allude to “the opportunity to forge new retail relationships.” And, with an iPad-related announcement apparently imminent, we may be seeing those titles sooner rather than later.

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