Amazon Inks Downloadable Book Deals

Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) announced two new ventures on Wednesday designed to provide customers with instant access to their book purchases.

The company plans to launch a new retail space on its site for Audible, Inc.’s (Nasdaq: ADBL) downloadable audio books, and has cut a deal with Ingram Industries Inc.’s Lightning Source to offer downloadable books and books printed on-demand.

“Customers can now explore and experience works they may never have had the chance to read or would have waited weeks to receive,” said Lyn Blake, Amazon.com’s general manager for book sales.

Although several audio book companies, including Audible.com, already offer downloads of audio texts, Amazon.com is the first major online bookstore to add downloadable audio books to its selection. Its chief competitors, Barnes & Noble and Borders.com, sell audio books but do not offer downloadable versions.

Hear Now

The audio book deal will make more than 4,700 audio books — plus comedy performances, audio newspapers, magazines and business information — available in a new Audio Downloads Store on the Amazon.com site. The audio can be played via a PC or Audible’s AudibleReady portable digital audio player.

Audible.com will also offer historic and contemporary speeches, academic lectures, language lessons, motivational programs and subscriptions to public radio programs through the new online store at Amazon.com.

Many of the products Audible makes available online, such as its RobinWilliams@audible.com weekly online comedy program, will be available exclusively through either Amazon.com or Audible.com, the publisher’s own retail Web site.

Assistance for the Blind

The widespread distribution of audio products via the Internet are of particular interest to people with visual impairments. The National Federation for the Blind estimates that more than 750,000 people in the United States are blind, and 50,000 more lose their vision each year.

Additionally, people without disabilities are increasingly using the lighter, more portable downloadable texts, as evidenced by the rising popularity of downloadable audio tracks and increasing use of portable digital audio players.

Virtual Inventories

Meanwhile, Lightning Source agreed to offer more than 9,000 book titles through Amazon.com in an attempt to appeal to people looking for hard-to-find, out-of-print or otherwise unavailable texts. Lightning Source, which electronically stores books and documents in a digital library, will be the exclusive print-on-demand source for Amazon.com for all titles in Lightning Source’s inventory.

To increase those holdings, Amazon.com promised to use its retailing and marketing muscle as the largest online book source to push publishers to make more titles available for on-demand printing and electronic publication.

Lightning Source President Ed Marino believes that the print-on-demand agreement makes good business sense not only for distributors like Lightning Source and retailers like Amazon.com, but also for publishers, because it will increase the overall sales of books.

In anticipation of the greater demand, Lightning Source said it plans to add a new facility on the West Coast later this year.

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