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.
While Barnes & Noble does not offer a similar gadget, it announced a partnership with Plastic Logic, which is developing an e-book device that would compete with the Kindle. It is expected to be the size of a sheet of notebook paper and would have wireless download capabilities similar to the Kindle and be on the market in early 2010.
Barnes & Noble said its books would not be compatible with two of the most popular electronic book readers on the market, the Kindle and Sony Corp.'s Reader. Instead, its digital books can be displayed on iPhones, Blackberries, computers and the proposed Plastic Logic device.