Barnes & Noble makes a big splash into e-books

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from the Today @ PC World blog at PCWorld.com.

Barnes & Noble, which calls itself the world's largest bookseller, has given hints that e-books will play an important role in the company’s future strategy. Monday, we got the first insights to Barnes’ digital strategy with the company’s two-prong announcement of the Barnes & Noble eBookstore and its e-book reader plans—including the company’s partnership with Plastic Logic to produce an e-book device.

The eBookstore, launched Monday, offers 700,000 titles according to Barnes & Noble’s press release, but in a conference call after the release went out, Barnes & Noble clarified that it includes Google’s 500,000 free public domain books as part of that number. That means for now, Amazon's Kindle store has the edge: It offers more than 300,000 titles. As on Amazon’s Kindle store, the Barnes & Noble eBookstore will offer new releases and bestsellers at $9.99. Barnes says it expects its selection to increase to over one million titles over the course of the next year, including e-books from established publishers, independent direct-to-e-book publishers, and Google.

When asked about how quickly Barnes & Noble planned to grow its portion of the eBookstore (excluding Google offerings), William J. Lynch, President of BN.com, reiterated, “We’re committed to offering Barnes & Noble consumers every title available in digital format.”

Barnes & Noble’s eBookstore will support only EPub, the free and open e-book standard from the International Digital Publishing Forum. Books will have DRM, and will be downloadable to your device as well as digitally stored in Your Library. According to Lynch, you can download books to multiple devices; Barnes & Noble offers its latest eReader software across a number of device platforms, including mobile phones (iPhone, Blackberry) and PC and Mac computers, and as part of Monday’s announcement, noted that the eBookstore will be available across all device platforms via the eReader software (acquired earlier this year from Fictionwise).

If you lose your cell phone or your hard drive fails, no worries: Barnes & Noble makes it easy to access your books digitally. “We have on record proof that you purchased the file, so you can download as many times as you need to,” explains Lynch.

In addition to the eBookstore, Barnes & Noble discussed its partnership with Plastic Logic. Plastic Logic’s eReader digital book reader is due out in early 2010. The Barnes & Noble eBookstore will be the exclusive storefront for the eReader; the company declined to discuss any other level of cooperation between the two companies, though it would not be surprising for Barnes & Noble to sell the eReader in its stores. “We have over 77 million readers who go through our stores,” noted Lynch.

Even without knowing the device’s price, the integrated Barnes & Noble eBookstore means that Barnes & Noble and Plastic have reached a powerful combination so far only seen from Amazon in the nascent e-book reader market. The Plastic Logic eReader device will be 8.5 by 11 inches, with a wireless connection—making it a direct threat to Amazon’s Kindle DX (also about the size of a sheet of paper, with wireless, and integrated Amazon Kindle bookstore). The on-device bookstore integration is a critical component of the puzzle: With it, an e-book reader offers the ease and immediacy of a digital shopping and acquisition experience, in addition to the convenience of an electronic book. Without an integrated storefront, an e-book reader is a static, lifeless device.

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