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Barnesandnoble.com cooks up marketing, content deals

The online bookseller, in two separate deals, is launching a new referral program today and plans to announce a partnership with online recipe site Ucook.com tomorrow.

Barnesandnoble.com is trying to get a little help from its friends in a race to catch up with Amazon.com.

The online bookseller, in two separate deals, launched a new referral program today and will announce a partnership with online recipe site Ucook.com tomorrow.

Under the new referral program, Barnesandnoble.com is asking its customers to embed a special link to the site within their email. In return for the free link, customers will receive a 5 percent commission on each Barnesandnoble.com purchase that sprang from the Web link.

Since launching its Web site in 1997, nearly two years after Amazon's, Barnesandnoble.com has struggled to overcome the impression that it is playing catch-up to the e-commerce leader. Despite being one of the Web's top e-commerce sites in traffic and sales, Barnesandnoble.com always seems to follow in Amazon's footsteps, most recently last week when launched it launched its online music store, more than one year after Amazon entered the market.

By providing a referral service that goes beyond Amazon's current offerings and by deepening its content through deals like that with Ucook, Barnesandnoble.com seems to be trying to take the initiative.

Barnesandnoble.com spokesman Ben Boyd noted that unlike other referral programs offered by Barnesandnoble.com and other sites, customers don't need to have their own Web site, only access to e-mail.

"This really makes e-commerce participation available to the masses," Boyd said.

The commission will be paid out quarterly and also can be directly donated to one of five charities: the American Red Cross, CARE, First Book, the National Wildlife Federation, or the Special Olympics.

Separately, Barnesandnoble.com and Ucook.com will announce an exclusive partnership tomorrow. Although neither company gave many details about the relationship, they said in a press release that it "will provide customers with a broad selection of cookbooks and related content."

Ucook.com, which has a database of recipes from a wide range of cookbooks, already has links from cookbook titles to corresponding pages on Barnesandnoble.com.

Susan Purcell, president and chief executive of Ucook.com, said that the deal actually was signed in April and that customers would be able to see the results of the relationship later this summer. Purcell said that Barnesandnoble.com approached Ucook.com last fall wanting access to the company's recipe search tool.

"We've struck an important strategic alliance to work with cookbook content," Purcell said. "We'll be working together to benefit as many cookbook readers as possible."

Boyd said little about the new relationship with Ucook.com, saying only that Barnesandnoble.com was "using some of their data."

Financial analyst Lauren Cooks Levitan of BancBoston Robertson Stephens said it will take more than new affiliates or referral programs for Barnesandnoble.com to catch up with e-commerce leader Amazon.