Two years after Microsoft walked away from digital bookselling, a leak of its latest software has hinted that it may be ready to try again. In what may be a fishing exercise to gauge interest, a dedicated bookselling section features in a leaked build of the software giant’s Windows 10 update for phones.
News that the company may enter digital bookselling was welcomed by publishers, although senior figures said they not been approached to supply titles to the store.
Andrew Franklin, managing director of Profile Books, said: “The more competition in the field, the better.” Literary agent Gordon Wise, who also heads the Association of Authors’ Agents, said: “A lot of business goes through one retailer, so it is always very helpful to have other people taking up a book offering.”
An early look at the new software by MSPowerUser showed a shop window for ebooks that, the website claimed, will be integrated into the Windows Store available across all platforms, including PC and mobile. It would plug a hole in Microsoft’s retail offer, which until now has included films, apps, games and music, but not books. According to Strategy Analytics, Microsoft currently only holds 14% of the tablet market.
Microsoft played down the reports of an imminent entry into the book market and hinted that the leaked content may be little more than a teaser to gauge whether there would be widespread consumer interest.
A spokeswoman told the Guardian: "We regularly test new features, and changes to existing features, to see what resonates well with our fans … stay tuned for more information soon."
The provisionality of the new offering appeared confirmed by publishers, none of whom had been approached to negotiate terms of supply. These could prove a sticking point if they include demands for free content.
Gordon Wise said that any enthusiasm felt by publishers would quickly die if Microsoft proposed giveaways or a Spotify-style service. "We're always very skeptical about subscription models and 'freemium' giveaways," he said. "As long as it keeps the value of a book, then it would be welcome."
It is not the first time Microsoft has been linked to digital bookselling. In 2014, Barnes & Noble walked away from a deal with the software company after Microsoft invested $300m in a deal to distribute B&N's Nook app.
At the time, Microsoft was reported to be withdrawing completely from the e-reader app market and rumored developments never materialized.
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