May 27, 2010, 2:58 PM

E-book mania: Barnes & Noble, Borders and Google all set to open e-bookstores

The race to acquire and retain e-book customers is on, and more players are joining the fray.

What once was a tiny, rarely heard from niche of online retailing is fast becoming a major battleground. The race to acquire and retain e-book customers is on, and more players are joining the fray—estimated by Forrester Research Inc. to be a $500 million market in 2010—or enhancing their existing offerings.

Barnes & Noble Inc. and computer maker and online retailer Hewlett-Packard Co. have launched the cobranded HP B&N eBookstore at hp.bn.com. HP will include a link to the store on new HP computers and may preload Barnes & Noble’s reading application on some devices in the future.

“We expect that there is going to be a lot of digital reading that is consumed on devices that aren’t specifically targeted to e-reading, such as laptops and netbooks,” says Kevin Frain, Barnes & Noble executive vice president of e-commerce. “Our goal is to offer our e-bookstore to as many customers as possible.”

Although the look of the HP B&N eBookstore echoes HP’s companywide branding, the site uses Barnes & Noble’s e-commerce platform, says Frain. The store’s offerings are also identical to those at Barnes & Noble’s BN.com e-book store. The site currently highlights the same books as BN.com, but HP’s e-commerce team can tailor the site’s contents however they choose, he says.

The announcement comes less than a month after Best Buy Co. Inc. reached an agreement with Barnes & Noble to carry the bookseller’s Nook e-reader, as well as to load Barnes & Noble’s BN e-reader software on select PCs, netbooks, tablets and smartphones.

Meanwhile, at Borders ...
Meanwhile, multichannel bookseller Borders Group Inc. is taking online pre-orders for its Kobo eReader for delivery as early as June 17. Also coming soon: A new e-bookstore on Borders.com, Kobo apps for ordering e-books through mobile devices and PCs, and in-store Area-e shops for downloading e-books.

Borders is offering the Kobo eReader for $149.99, compared to $259 for Amazon.com Inc.’s similarly sized Kindle e-reader. The Kobo eReader, which will come pre-loaded with 100 classic books, can carry up to 1,000 book titles; the Kindle carries up to 1,500 while the larger Kindle DX, priced at $489, can handle up to 3,500 titles.

Mike Edwards, Borders Group’s interim president and CEO, says its Kobo eReader is just the first of several e-readers the retailer plans to offer. “We’re excited to offer the Kobo eReader to our customers, the first of what will be a wide selection of e-readers we’ll sell, along with an online store that supports a variety of devices, giving consumers freedom in the e-book world at the best possible value,” he says.

The new e-bookstore on Borders.com will feature more than 1 million book titles, which shoppers will also be able to access through free mobile apps.

... and over at Google
Not to be left out, Google Inc. announced it will begin selling e-books via its Google Editions web site as early as this month. In addition, the search engine giant plans to act as a wholesaler of electronic books, making its catalog of e-books available to other online book retailers.

Google says it plans to distinguish its e-bookstore by allowing consumers to access books from any web browser using any device that has web connectivity. Instead of downloading the e-book, consumers will buy online access to the e-book. That’s not unlike Google’s other products, such as its Google Docs word-processing and other applications, which rely on consumers having web access, says Sarah Rotman Epps, a Forrester analyst. “Google products are really built for connectivity,” she says.

That browser-based approach also means that Google Editions will be device-agnostic, she says. “Consumers will be able to buy Google books from any device and that’s important because the number of devices is proliferating,” she says. “It’s in Google’s interest to be everywhere consumers are.”

Google says it will also make its e-books available for independent bookstores to sell and will give those retailers the vast majority of the revenue.

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