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College Bookstores Hope to Turn Their Web Sites Into E-Book Portals

College bookstores are taking steps to turn their Web sites into e-book portals, hoping to stay relevant as publishers make a push to electronic textbooks.

A project announced this week by bookstore associations in the United States and Canada will bring a library of downloadable e-books to participating stores. A few stores in Canada are experimenting with the system this fall, and some U.S. stores will try the system starting this spring.

Trying to set up an e-book-distribution operation at each college store would be difficult and expensive. So the groups — the National Association of College Stores and the Canadian Campus Retail Associates Inc. — have pooled their resources to develop a shared system. Each store can integrate it into its own Web site, to let students buy and download an electronic text in just a few clicks, similar to the way Amazon and other online retailers do.

So far the groups’ collection is tiny — just about 200 titles. But they were selected because they show up on so many course syllabi, according to Mark Nelson, vice president for strategy and development for the National Association of College Stores. And this first set of books is free to students, either because the books are out of copyright or because the publishers have agreed to make them free for now.

Anyone can download the free books from participating stores, one of which is Queens University’s bookstore.

Why should a student turn to the college bookstore’s Web site when some of the same texts are available through Google’s free library of e-books? Mr. Nelson said the main selling point for the campus bookstores was that they know which books have been assigned on the campus and can quickly display a list of books needed for any course at the institution.

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