In E-Bookstores, Does Size Matter?

Barnes & Noble hoped for a splash this week when it announced it was launching the world's largest e-bookstore. While the move does kick up some dust in the marketplace for e-books, it's worth noting that Barnes & Noble's claim to record-shattering size has left some industry observers ho-humming.

Barnes & Noble is touting its 700,000 titles, available for downloading to a variety of devices: iPhone, Blackberry, desktop computer. Amazon, by contrast, offers about 300,000 titles that can only be read on the company's Kindle device.

But let's have a look at those numbers. Barnes & Noble isn't hiding the fact that 500,000 of its titles are books in the public domain, available for free through an arrangement with Google, which has been building a massive library of such volumes.

That's great if you want to dip into older, out-of-print books. And I'd be the last to say there isn't tremendous value in having easy, free access to those titles. But for readers hunting the latest titles, Barnes & Noble's size doesn't quite add up.

"While there's some value to out-of-print titles, there's often a reason they are out of print," writes Zack Urlocker of InfoWorld. "In reality, Barnes & Noble's store is about as significant as an iTunes competitor announcing they've got an exclusive contract on Czech violin concertos."

But the fact is, the e-bookstore wars are heating up - and while the bookstores battle, readers should benefit through greater choice and - let's hope - reasonable pricing. The Barnes & Noble announcement signals that one day size might matter in the world of e-book sales - that is, when the current miniscule numbers begin to multiply.

By Steven E. Levingston |  July 24, 2009; 5:30 AM ET
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I love Czech violin concertos!

Posted by: gary30 | July 24, 2009 11:14 AM

Okay, Dvorak's Concerto and Suk's Fantasy... what else?

Posted by: prokaryote | July 27, 2009 4:47 PM

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