Penguin Classics is getting into e-books starting with the launch of Pride & Prejudice formatted for Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader. The Kindle has become a hot commodity over at Amazon, and with Sony re-entering the market e-books may finally be coming into their own after years of hype.  In fact, since the Kindle launched e-book sales have risen 24% (from $2.5 million to $3.1 million).

But what is intriguing about this development is the idea that booksellers will try to sell content that is in the public domain and widely available for free in a format that will work on the same device. Penguin Classics has been selling works that are in the public domain for years. The model has been to distinguish their offerings in print in much the same way they will online, by bundling in some extras to help give the book some historical context and meaning. And this model has been successful in the offline world. Whether this will work online remains to be seen (ahem, music industry)?

What distinguishes this from the problems the music industry faced is that the music industry at least had the threat of legal action under copyright law, whereas Penguin Classics is competing with identical content that is freely available and in the public domain. The free content (in this case Pride and Prejudice through Project Guttenberg) can be uploaded to the Kindle just as the paid content from Penguin Classics and through Amazon.

Presumably the paid content is more likely to be formatted properly and will ostensibly be of a higher quality (or perhaps a better or different translation for foreign language texts), but at the end of the day will people pay for these improvements and if so how much?