‘Old media’ publisher HarperCollins Publishers is set to offer free electronic editions of a number of its books via its website at www.harpercollins.com– with the initial e-books set to include a Paulo Coelho novel and a cookbook by US celeb chef, Robert Irvine.

"It's like taking the shrink wrap off a book," HarperCollins’ chief executive Jane Friedman told Reuters. "The best way to sell books is to have the consumer be able to read some of that content."

Only available for one month

The e-books will only be available for one month at a time, with print and copy/paste functions disabled, to encourage keen readers to buy from online bookstores such as Amazon.

"We will know very soon if we sense any kind of cannibalization," Friedman said.

Speaking of the innovative promotion, Paulo Coelho told Reuters: "I believe that generosity pays off… I believe that they are not going to go beyond 20 or 30 pages when reading on the internet.”

How people acquire a reading habit

English fantasy novelist Neil Gaiman makes a valid point about how children (and adults) acquire their own reading habits, adding: "I read books at libraries, I read books at friend's houses, I read books that I found on people's window sills".

For more on HarperCollins' free books online promotion check out www.harpercollins.com.