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Ever since Amazon.com created its publishing division, it has tried to experiment with novel approaches to producing and distributing books. Its latest idea: giving them away.

On Friday, Amazon debuted Kindle First, a program that offers members of its Prime subscription service the opportunity to snag a digital copy of one of four upcoming titles from Amazon Publishing each month free. Readers who aren’t members of the $79-a-year service can still sign up for the Kindle First program and buy digital versions of those books for $1.99.

The idea is to build pre-sale buzz for books a month before their release from the company’s publishing arm. This month, Amazon is offering early access to “We Will Survive: True Stories of Encouragement, Inspiration, and the Power of Song” by Gloria Gaynor; “Things We Set on Fire” by Deborah Reed; “No Place for a Dame” by Connie Brockway; and “Silent Echo” by J.R. Rain. All of those books will be available to the public in December.

“One of the reasons we launched Amazon Publishing was to serve as an in-house laboratory,” said Amazon Publishing Vice President Jeff Belle.

The offerings are limited to books from Amazon’s various imprints. Belle said the company didn’t reach out to other publishers.

There’s no formula for how each month’s Kindle First books will be selected. The first batch include romance, mystery and spirituality titles. Editors who have worked on the various books will make a pitch for their projects to be included.

“It comes down to a lot of arguing in editorial meetings,” Belle said.

For authors, selection for a Kindle First title could create momentum for their book when it eventually goes on sale to the public.

“This is awesome,” said Gaynor, whose book includes 40 stories of how her disco hit “I Will Survive” helped listeners through tough times. “It’s really exciting to get this in front of millions of people” beyond the target niche as an inspirational title.

Jay Greene: 206-464-2231 or jgreene@seattletimes.com. Twitter: iamjaygreene