Barnes & Noble (BKS) used to own the book sales business in the U.S. Amazon (AMZN) wrecked all that by moving the sales of many books online. Barnes & Noble started its own e-commerce site, but it never gained much ground.
The latest threat Amazon has posed to Barnes & Noble is the sale of e-books for its Kindle. The success of the devices and its online store could be about all Barnes & Noble, which is already retrenching, can take. Not wanting to go down without a fight, the bricks-and-mortar firm is launching its own e-book store with over 200,000 "current" titles and another half a million that are in the public domain, much more than the number that Amazon offers.
According to The Wall Street Journal, "Book formats supported by the new Barnes & Noble e-bookstore include those that can be viewed on Apple Inc.'s iPhone and iPod Touch, BlackBerry smartphones and most Windows and Mac computers." The e-books will also work on the new Plastic Logic e-book reader that Barnes & Noble will sell.
It is a classic battle between two companies -- one that owns the primary means of distribution and the other that owns the lion's share of the content to be distributed. The outcome of the fight is hard to predict. If Amazon can quickly add more titles, it will gain the upper hand. If the Plastic Logic product and Barnes & Noble's distribution partners do well, it may trump Amazon's plans.
In the long-fought competition between Barnes & Noble and Amazon, if history is any guide, Bezos & Co. are likely to prevail.
Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.