Read, Redmond, Read

Here's an item that will make your head hurt:

Microsoft Corp. wins headlines by partnering to sell items that exist hypothetically. Call it a new form of vaporware.

Case in point: the hoopla accompanying the news that the company will join up with Barnesandnoble.com to create an online store for digital books. Of course, some digital books exist already. In fact, Barnesandnoble.com already sells Rocket titles for the eBook, as ZDNet's Margaret Kane pointed out. But if you can believe the New York Times, no "major American consumer trade publishers" have stepped forward to make titles available digitally. (All those adjectives before the word "publishers" are needed because, as Reuters observed, Microsoft has inked deals with Penguin, a division of British publisher Pearson, and with R.R. Donnelley, Chicago's printing megalith.) CBS MarketWatch dubbed the deal a "key lift for [the] electronic book movement," and it may be, if mainstream publishers buy into the hype. So far, top houses are balking on matters of pricing and royalties, an unnamed source told the Times' Doreen Carvajal.

But don't mock the gentleman's profession for lack of online sophistication.

According to the same mystery source, a key sticking point is publishers' desire to obtain customers' e-mail addresses. Wonder if anyone's already selling the hypothetical data?

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