Barnes&Noble.com inks deal for e-book sales

The online bookseller and electronic publisher MightyWords.com are partnering to sell digitally downloadable and printable e-books.

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Barnes&Noble.com and electronic publisher MightyWords.com are partnering to sell digitally downloadable and printable e-books.

MightyWords, formerly a division of online bookseller Fatbrain.com, is providing content that is available on Barnes&Noble.com, including works by Patricia Cornwell, New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine, and the Dalai Lama. Consumers have the option of downloading titles to the Microsoft Reader or Glassbook Reader as well as printing the books, which range from $3 to $100.

This week's announcement comes as publishers move into the digital arena with e-book initiatives and experiments that tap the Net.

Analysts have said that although publishers may be gearing up to enter a new editorial marketplace, the technology may be far ahead of the demand.

Fewer than 50,000 electronic reading devices have been sold in the United States, according to Internet researcher Jupiter Media Metrix. Sales will limp along through 2005, the research company predicts, reaching just 1.9 million--far too few to sustain a market.

Despite the hurdles of consumer acceptance and piracy, Barnes&Noble.com is confident that the marketplace for e-books is moving forward.

"We certainly are very optimistic by the fact that there are so many different content players getting involved with e-books now and seem to really understand the distribution models," said Tom Turvey, director of e-books at Barnes&Noble.com.

Turvey said the announcement fits with the company's attempts to expand the market for e-books using best-selling authors to gain and garner interest from readers.

"When you have original content from people like Patricia Cornwell, John Gray and the Dalai Lama, these are household names that people are very familiar with and will attract them to read an e-book format. The content is original, which is driving the most interest," Turvey said.

Turvey added that if the content was published in the offline or print world through traditional channels and traditional publishing houses, it would take much longer.

"The amount (of time) it takes to get it from the brain of a brilliant author into a format that consumers can download it into a site...is short and dramatic," Turvey said. "So we're able to merchandize and to market much more (quickly) than we would just selling regular print books."

In June, Barnes&Noble.com invested $20 million in MightyWords, taking a 30 percent stake in the company. Three months later, Barnes&Noble.com said it would acquire Fatbrain.com, which meant that it would own approximately 50 percent of MightyWords.

Judy Kirkpatrick, MightyWords' executive vice president, admits that the e-book market has not been taking off as well as the company would like. She added, however, that MightyWords is seeing a significant amount of revenue by using the Internet as a place for distribution.

Kirkpatrick said the titles offered are not available from any other source, making the electronic content more attractive to consumers.

"It doesn't exist in the traditional book world, which is traditionally the space we see people moving into when they think about e-books," Kirkpatrick said. "What we're doing is bringing information into the market and using the Internet as a distribution (means) because of the economy of scale that is provided by it."