Barnes & Noble: Who Needs Amazon's Kindle?

Move over Amazon, the race to electronically deliver books is heating up.

Barnes & Noble, the largest bookstore chain by revenue, just became the latest company to launch its own eBook store to compete with Amazon and its increasingly popular Kindle family of electronic readers. It joins Sony and other companies that aim to capture a piece of this young, but fast-growing market.

Rivals have been taking aim at Amazon, which exercises more control over how consumers use their Kindle devices, the price book publishers set and its relative expense. Amazon recently took some heat for deleting unlicensed copies of author George Orwell’s novels from users’ Kindle readers without advance warning.

Barnes & Noble says its new eBook store will let users download titles to a variety of mobile devices, including Apple’s iPhone, Research in Motion’s Blackberry, pcs and Macs. The company also is partnering with Plastic Logic to offer a dedicated 8.5- by 11-inch electronic reader that can wirelessly download choices from more than 700,000 titles early next year.

Companies also are looking for points of differentiation as the field for eBook readers gets more crowded. Barnes & Noble says that iPhone users can snap a photo of the front cover of a book and within seconds get product details, editorial reviews and customer ratings. The application also includes a store locator, bestseller lists, book recommendations, and a store events calendar.

The competition should be good for consumers. It will keep prices for electronic books down and should result in significantly lower costs for the readers themselves in coming months. Already, Amazon has dropped the price of its Kindle 2 reader by $60, to $299, just a few months after its launch.

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