Barnes & Noble Gets Aggressive in the E-Book Wars

DR800_frontDon't buy that Kindle just yet: the Battle of the E-Books is just getting started. Barnes & Noble today announced a partnership with Netherlands-based Irex Technologies to introduce an e-reader in the U.S. later this year (it already sells e-readers in Europe). This comes just weeks after the announcement that Plastic Logic's B&N-backed reader will be out in 2010. It's clear that the world's largest bookseller is ready to man the e-book battlefield.

B&N launched its e-book store over the summer and currently offers a downloadable e-reader for iPhone and iPod Touch, Blackberry, and PC or Mac. But with the absence of a dedicated e-reader, the store is putting itself at an early disadvantage. (Sony already partnered with Borders for its Reader device, and is introducing an updated version this fall.) Irex's upcoming B&N-linked reader, out later this year, and Plastic Logic's, not out until 2010 (when the Kindle's announcement will be approaching its third anniversary), will help, but it could be too little too late, depending on just how good the e-readers are.

Barnes & Noble progressively attempted entering the e-book market way back in 2001 but pulled out with little success, mostly due to lack of demand. The Kindle resparked e-book interest and brought it out as a (potentially) money-driving force, even though analysts at Forrester Research say e-books hold less than 2% of the $24 billion book-publishing industry today. Like MP3s, smartphones, and netbooks, though, the growth potential is there for those who want to tackle it. And Barnes & Noble seems to be ready to give it another shot.

B&N's playbook is aggressive--more than 700,000 titles are available now, with plans to offer more than 1 million titles by next summer. Those numbers include the more than half-million books Google recently made available for free, but compare that to Amazon's 325,000 titles and there's a clear leader in content. Sony also makes Google's free library available on its readers, bringing its collection to about 600,000 titles--still more than Amazon, but bumped to second tier by B&N.

Analysts don't expect Barnes & Noble's electronic offering to have much effect on the book behemoth's sales, which were down 5% in 2009's Q2. At this point, though, the e-book market is more about gaining ground than making significant sales--Amazon actually loses money on many e-book titles, according to Fast Company's July/August cover story on Jeff Bezos and Amazon. For a serious Kindle opponent to arise, it has to be willing to do the same, at least as the battle is heating up.

[via All Things Digital]

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