SAN FRANCISCO Barnes & Noble Inc unveiled on Monday what it called the world's largest online bookstore, taking on Amazon.com Inc with over 700,00 titles readable on devices such as Apple Inc's iPhone.
The top U.S. bookseller plans to charge customers $9.99 to download most new releases and bestsellers -- the same as Amazon. The titles now available include more than half a million public domain books from Google Inc.
Barnes & Noble also said it will be the exclusive provider of digital books on the Plastic Logic e-reader, a device expected to compete with Amazon's popular Kindle and due to launch early next year.
Eschewing Amazon's Kindle-only approach, the bookseller said its digital books could be read on the iPhone or iPod touch, Research in Motion Ltd's Blackberry and most Mac and Microsoft Corp Windows laptops or desktop computers.
The company hopes to grow its selection to over 1 million titles within the next year and include every available e-book from every book publisher. Amazon sells over 300,000 digital titles for the Kindle.
"Readers should have access to the books in their digital library from any device, from anywhere, at any time," argued William Lynch, president of barnesandnoble.com.
Barnes & Noble's full-fledged foray into digital books comes as a host of companies jockey for position in the emerging but fast-growing industry.
Brick-and-mortar booksellers such as Barnes & Noble and main U.S. rival Borders Group Inc have been battling a slump in sales in the $25 billion domestic book market in past years as readers head online or seek out visual entertainment.
EVERYONE BUT AMAZON, SONY
Lynch said he hoped to eventually make digital book fans of its more than "77 million voracious readers" who currently buy physical copies of books.
But those offerings will not be compatible with the Kindle nor a rival e-reader from Japan's Sony Corp.
Still, Barnes & Noble's philosophy is at odds with Amazon, whose Kindle is only compatible with content purchased from the Kindle Store. That has kept away potential users who want to read material they pay for on a variety of devices.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
The Kindle in late 2007 marked the highest-profile launch of an e-reader -- although Sony came to market more than a year earlier with its version and others have come out with their own.
The reader made by privately-owned Plastic Logic is described as ultra-thin, measuring roughly the size of a letter-sized piece of paper.
Amazon's device has also been the target of negative publicity in the last week, including a lawsuit that alleges the Kindle's screen can shatter if a protective cover is used, and criticisms that Amazon deleted certain books from users' Kindles without first notifying owners.
Barnes & Noble would not say whether it planned to sell Plastic Logic devices in its stores or online.
Barnes & Noble shares closed up 3 percent to $22.11 on a day when the stock market rallied, while Amazon shares were up 2.8 percent to $88.23.