The New York Times Co. yesterday said it has reached an agreement in principle to sell its book-publishing operations to Random House Inc.

The Times, which declined to disclose the sale price, said that under the agreement, all books compiled from material first presented in the New York Times will now be published by Random House. Such books have been the backbone of the Times Books list, which ranges from Craig Claiborne's numerous cookbooks to David Shipler's "Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams."

As a result, the sale is not likely to diminish the controversy surrounding the newspaper's policy that reporters must submit their book proposals to Times Books for first-right-of-refusal if the books stem from reporting originally done for the newspaper.

"If a book evolved out of the New York Times, [we] would like Random House to have first option" after Times Books is sold, said Leonard R. Harris, the Times' director of corporate relations and public affairs.

Harris said that although the company still hopes to develop books from New York Times articles, "we do not want to be involved in the entire business of book publishing, dealing with a sales force, printing, returns, etc."

Consequently, Harris said, the company decided to sell the book division, which he called "a very tiny operation, with 30-odd people and a small number of books a year. In this billion-dollar company, it's lost."

Financial analysts were not surprised by the sale, noting that the book-publishing division has not been a money-maker for the company.

"They haven't been making much money, if any, in the book operation for some time," said J. Kendrick Noble Jr. of Paine Webber Mitchell Hutchins. He noted that the company had already disposed of another book-publishing subsidiary, Cambridge Book Co.

"They have decided it is not a growth business for them. It's kind of an orphan, so the sale is not surprising," Noble said.