BN.com to print-on-demand

Barnes and Noble Inc. announced Thursday it will partner with IBM Corp.

Barnes and Noble Inc. announced Thursday it will partner with IBM Corp. to provide its online division, barnesandnoble.com, with the technology for print-on-demand facilities in its distribution centers.

The two companies are heralding the announcement as a "major step into the digital arena" for Barnes and Noble (NYSE: BKS).

"This technology really broadens the types of books printed and how we get the books," said Rich Troksa, director of customer segment marketing for IBM (NYSE: IBM). "It resets how you manage the book lifecycle process."

The new technology means Barnes and Noble will be able to offer a wider range of titles without having to invest in additional, physical inventory and storage facilities. The bookseller says it hopes to have an additional 500,000 titles available within five years. The bookstore already has about 1 million titles available at its distribution centers.

After a book has been scanned and stored in an electronic format, IBM's print-on-demand technology publishes the books one at a time, taking about five minutes per copy to print pages, a cover, and bind the book. The printers the bookseller is purchasing from IBM are able to print out over 800 pages per minute and can create both hardcover and paperback titles. According to Troksa, the on-demand books are indistinguishable from their offline counterparts.

"You wouldn't know the difference," Troksa said. "They're [print on-demand books] out there now. The customers really don't know unless you tell them."

Once an order is placed, Barnes and Noble will search through its digital warehouse of books and print out the selected book on a per-order basis. For out of print books that are not already stored in digital form, an original copy will need to be located and digitally scanned into a computer before it can be printed.

The IBM technology will also enable books stored in electronic format to be converted into a variety of e-book formats, like the Rocket eBook.

Barnes and Noble will roll out its use of the IBM print-on-demand technology beginning in January 2000.