Barnes & Noble Inc., which withdrew from the nascent digital book market in 2006, said Monday that it had reentered the growing field and launched "the world's largest e-bookstore."
The New York retailer, which operates 777 stores in the U.S., boasted that its online bookshop has more than 700,000 titles. Included in the tally are about half a million books in the public domain and available as free downloads via a partnership with Google Inc. Works whose copyrights have expired or were never copyrighted at all, including William Shakespeare's plays or Dante Alighieri's "Inferno," are considered public domain titles.
Barnes & Noble's online efforts, which began in 2001 and ended five years later because of lackluster sales, revived this year. In March, it acquired Fictionwise, an online electronic bookseller, for $15.7 million. Fictionwise continues to operate separate from Barnes & Noble's online bookstore.
The moves come as rival bookseller Amazon.com Inc. is increasing its slice of the fast-growing e-book market. A year after Barnes & Noble bowed out of e-books, Amazon in November 2007 launched the Kindle, which lets users wirelessly download books on the device without having to hook it up to a computer. The Seattle online retailer has since released two other versions -- the thinner Kindle 2 and a larger-screen Kindle DX. Amazon offers 300,000 books available for download on the Kindle.