The Wall Street Journal "leaks" that Apple is negotiating with publisher Harper Collins over the rights to market e-books on Apple's "latest creation", presumably the iTablet/iSlate.

We say "leaks" because, well, it's the WSJ and the story credits contributions from someone who's been getting an awful lot of awfully good Apple information recently. Also, we've heard for a while now that Apple has been in talks with traditional print media book, magazine, and newspaper publishers in order to line up content for the iTablet -- and presumably the iPhone, iPod touch, and other iTunes connected devices, since that's Apple's ecosystem and their forte.

So, on one hand this story serves to firm up expectations that a tablet style device will be announced, and set them as to what one of its new features will be -- doing from print media what the iPod did for music (and what has tried to do for movies and TV, despite Hollywood's myopia). Here's the crux of it:

Brian Murray, the chief executive of HarperCollins, said in December that e-books enhanced with video, author interviews and social-networking applications could command higher retail prices for publishers than current e-books. Many of the country's largest publishing houses are worried about the sale of new bestsellers for only $9.99 in the e-book format. New releases of enhanced e-books could sell for $14.99 to $19.99, a person familiar with the situation said. HarperCollins is a unit of News Corp., which also owns The Wall Street Journal.

Sounds like iTunes LP (for music) and iTunes Extras (for movies) would get an e-book-centric companion, perhaps magazines and newspapers as well. (Though magazines and newspapers traditionally involve subscription services, something Apple, despite the many years of rumors, has yet to offer for music or TV).

What remains to be seen is, if these negotiations pan out, whether Apple will focus on print-media-gone-digital as the killer feature of the new device/service or just one of several (like the iPhone's wide-screen ipod, internet communicator, phone combo pitch).

[Thanks to @jordanak1 for the head's up!]