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Borders signs deal for new eBook store

More free tomes, but Adobe still in the background

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Borders has bought a stake in on-line book seller Kobo, which will take over the bookselling giant's eBook store and extend the service onto PDA phones too.

Borders UK might be clearing the shelves, but the US company is expanding its electronic presence in the face of competition from Amazon and Barnes & Nobel amongst others. Borders already has a decent store selling eBooks, but only in ePub format and bound up in Adobe's Digital Editions DRM. Kobo supports Adobe too, but additionally has its own format with associated clients for the iPhone , Android, Palm Pre, and Blackberry devices with a back end that can cope with providing the same title in multiple formats.

Adobe's Digital Editions works across eReader devices, including just about everything except Amazon's Kindle, but Kindle books can be read on an iPhone while Adobe's system is limited to dedicated eReaders and desktop computers.

The ePub format is an open standard, albeit one managed by Adobe, so anyone can create a client application (an open-source one for Windows Phones was launched last week) but those only work for DRM-free texts - protected content is restricted.

It's possible that Adobe will release its Digital Editions for PDA phones; it would certainly make the platform more competitive with the Kindle and there's no obvious technical reason why it couldn't be done, but nor is there any sign that such an application is in development: Borders obviously decided it couldn't wait.

Kobo reckons to have two million books listed, but most of those are freebies - free books serve a useful purpose in giving customers the confidence that they can read, and enjoy, an eBook, but they present a dilemma for a book store unused to giving away the product.

Some have suggested that Borders could launch its own hardware, as Barnes & Nobel has done with the Nook, and Amazon with its Kindle, but while the Nook might be a flagship device even B&N has made it clear that its content will be available for other devices such as the long-awaited Que from Plastic Logic. So the question becomes whether Borders needs a flagship device to be taken seriously, or if customers are ready for a device-independent retailer. ®

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