Penguin signs China e-book deal as sales rise in U.S.

LONDON (Reuters) - Penguin Group has become the first international publisher to sign an English electronic book distribution deal in China after seeing significant growth in the United States, the head of the group said on Tuesday.

John Makinson, chairman and chief executive of the Pearson Group unit, told reporters that its e-book sales for the first three months of the year in the U.S., the leading market for e-book readers, were about seven times the level of the previous year.

He said they were “running up to around 1 percent of sales” in the U.S. and would be more than 1 percent by the end of the year.

“The underlying growth in e-book sales is very significant in the U.S. and we expect over time that in the international markets that we are here to talk about (Britain, China, India, South Africa and Australia) it will be very significant there too,” Makinson said.

Sales of electronic readers, including Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader, have been growing fast over the last year in the U.S. as the gadgets, small and light enough to be carried in a handbag, can eliminate the need to carry around the more bulky books and newspapers.

Technology blogs have also speculated that Apple could announce a new device called an iTablet.

Makinson said that Penguin expected e-books to sell well in new markets once the devices were available there.

He said the group had just signed an agreement with Beijing-based Founder Apabi Group, which will make it the first international publisher to distribute English e-books in China.

Under the agreement, it will make available its full-range of e-books from the United Kingdom and all of its Dorling Kindersley imprint, currently more than 2,000 titles.

Penguin said its best-selling titles would be available in English to download in May.

Makinson said e-books were protected by anti-piracy software, which limited file sharing, and the group had not seen much piracy.

However, he said Penguin was keeping a close eye on Web sites that held books online for any breaches of international copyright terms.

Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Karen Foster