Barnes & Noble To Expand Online Textbook Sales

Barnes & Noble is paying nearly $600 million to get back into the college bookstore business. The bookseller once owned the textbook distribution company it's re-buying. Barnes & Noble last month launched its eBookstore, following the release of Amazon's Kindle DX digital reader. That larger screen Kindle is aimed at the student market.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Barnes & Noble is optimistic about the future of online textbooks. That's one of the reasons it's spending $600 million to buy a campus bookstore chain. It's actually buying back a business it once spun off into a separate company. It's called Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, and it operates hundreds of campus bookstores.

NPR's Yuki Noguchi has more.

YUKI NOGUCHI: Anyone who's had to budget for textbooks at the end of the summer knows it's a serious business - $10 billion to be precise, and projected to grow with college enrollment. Joe Lombardi is chief financial officer of Barnes & Noble. He says growth in the traditional, plus growth in the digital business, made the acquisition a good deal.

Mr. JOE LOMBARDI (CEO, Barnes & Noble): Both companies will benefit from a unified digital platform.

NOGUCHI: Barnes & Noble last month launched its e-book store following the release of Amazon's Kindle DX digital reader. That large-screen Kindle is aimed at the student market. Lombardi says although digital reading is in its infancy, more students will consume textbooks on their iPhones, Blackberrys, laptops or e-book devices. Lombardi says Barnes & Nobles sees a future where more people will develop new habits around reading and studying, but he admits he is more old-school.

Mr. LOMBARDI: I don't know how I would have been able to do calculus derivatives on my telephone, but I think that it's certainly going to evolve - and certainly, course materials are going to become more online and downloadable. And it's going to get easier and better, and the technology will get better, and the graphics will get better.

NOGUCHI: But when he reads for pleasure, it's still the bound-book variety.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.

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