Tech Industry

Barnes & Noble shelves e-books

The bookseller discontinues sales of the downloadable books, according to a statement on the company's Web site. has discontinued sales of e-books, according to a statement on the company's Web site.

Customers using Microsoft's eBook reader have until Dec. 9 to access downloads purchased from the store, while Adobe Reader customers have 90 days to retrieve any outstanding files, according to a notice posted on the site Tuesday. Meanwhile thousands of e-book titles were listed as unavailable.

"( no longer sells eBooks," the statement noted.

Company representatives did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

E-books sparked a flurry of excitement in 2000 when best-selling author Stephen King experimented with the format. Since then, however, analysts said the format has largely disappointed, both in terms of sales and in the technology used to access them.

"Sales have been pretty minimal," said Robert Leathern, director and senior analyst with Nielsen/NetRatings. He said, however, that the company does not track e-book sales formally. "E-books for a long time have been something that people have said will lead to a spike in adoption, but the technology hasn't really been there yet."

The decision to end e-book sales is a setback for both Microsoft and Adobe Systems, which have been pushing new technology for digital books.

Microsoft signed a deal with Barnes & Noble in January 2000, at which time the bookstore chain agreed to build an eBook store featuring Microsoft eReader titles and aggressively market the format through its retail stores.

Since then, Microsoft has invested heavily in digital book designs, beefing up its reader software and creating new portable computing platforms such as the PocketPC and TabletPC, aimed squarely at augmenting traditional printed media formats.

"Certainly we're disappointed at the loss of an important retailer," said Cliff Guren, Microsoft's group product manager for e-reading. "That said, we understand their need to make a business decision. Any new businesses have ups and downs, and look forward to continuing to develop these products."

Guren said Microsoft does not disclose e-book sales figures for its eReader software, but said that the company has distributed about 7 million copies of the program through downloads, CD-ROMs and bundled with PocketPCs.

In 2000, Adobe expanded its e-book efforts, purchasing e-book technology developer Glassbooks and also signing a deal with Barnes & Noble to distribute e-books in Adobe's .PDF format.

Nielsen/NetRatings' Leathern said the promise of portability through devices such as TabletPC could help improve the outlook for e-book sales in the long term, but downplayed any short-term impact.

"The more futuristic vision is that you can carry the book around," he said. "There is some technology in the works to make reading on those screens a lot clearer, and there's some potential for that. It could become the preferred way for people to read business documents. But I doubt whether that will be the preferred way people read everyday things."