Borders and Sony, Sitting in a Tree

The massive bookstore chain announce today that they’ll be moving to ‘second base’ in their relationship with Sony’s e-book reader.

Borders is expanding its relationship with Sony, adding the technology company’s e-book reader to over 200 more of its superstores, while also agreeing to develop a co-branded store to facilitate e-book sales. Borders has been selling the Sony Reader in 270 of its superstore since last November and will now offer it for sale in more than 500 outlets. “We have been doing very well with it,” Borders spokesperson Anne Roman said of the Reader. The rollout to additional stores will begin in October.

So, how will all these new e-book reader readin’ crazies buy their e-books? Right there in the middle of their local Borders store, right?

Uh, not yet.

Starting next month, Borders will team with Sony to launch a new e-bookstore. Currently, e-book titles for the Reader can only be downloaded through Sony’s Connect online store. Borders’ outlets that now carry the Reader only have a demo unit in the store, and Roman said it was too early to say if stores will offer a way to directly order e-books from a store. She wouldn’t comment on whether the prototype stores now under development will enable customers to buy an e-book from the store, although such a feature seems likely.

Likely? Isn’t that what a bookstore does – sell books? They don’t sell paper and then require the user to go home and print a book on it, right? If Borders doesn’t get into the e-book selling business themselves, they’ll lose Sony Reader sales to the likes of Wal-Mart, Best Buy or any number of other big box retailers.

To increase the selection of e-books, Borders’ merchandise team will encourage large publishers to put more of their backlist in e-book format, and also urge mid-sized and small publishers to add e-books. Roman hopes that Borders’ support of the e-book market will convince publishers who have hesitated about getting into the format to get into the business.

This won’t happen if Borders limits their sales to the device only. Publishers already consider e-book customers to be a ‘geeks only’ club, and as long as that remains a universal truth, they won’t be spending big money to put a lot of their books in the format. In fact, I don’t believe publishers will really put their arms around ‘e’ versions of trade books until the devices become as ubiquitous as the iPod. And that’s only if they don’t repeat the mistakes made by their counterparts in the Record Industry.

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