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Barnes & Noble is stumping $15.7m to buy the indie e-book seller Fictionwise.com as part of the mega-chain's second attempt to sell digital books online.

The cash acquisition comes just days after Amazon extended its Kindle e-book store to support the iPhone and iPod Touch for US customers. Amazon may be making small concessions towards making its digital bookstore available outside the Kindle's despotic proprietary format, but B&N appears to sensibly be taking the open format route to compete against its established rival.

Fictionwise currently sells its e-book in a variety of formats to support most of the major e-book readers and mobile devices, so long as the book publishers allow it. The site's co-founder Scott Pendergrast told the e-tome blog TeleRead he was only willing to sell to a vendor who shared is open format philosophy — and hopefully that vision can survive the throes of a B&N acquisition.

Barnes & Noble at least is saying it will give the new e-book biz some space, stating it will run Fictionwise as a separate business unit with the site's founders still running the show.

Keep in mind the mega-chain is currently 0-1 for starting a digital book store. Back in 2001, it opened Barnes & Noble Digital, hoping to tempt publishers and authors alike with slightly higher royalties on e-books than their physical equivalent. After investing at least $20m into the project, B&N discontinued sales of e-book three years after its launch.

But consumer interest in digital books has increased somewhat towards this end of the decade. Or perhaps curiosity is a better word for it — largely thanks to Amazon's creation and devoted pitching of the Kindle and Kindle 2: Electric Boogaloo.

Barnes & Noble said it will roll Fictionwise into its overall digital strategy, which includes the launch of an e-Bookstore later this year. Meanwhile, Fictionwise says Fictionwise.com and the various other sites it runs will continue to run as e-book retailers. ®

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