to Make Books On-Demand parent Borders Group, Inc. (NYSE: BGP) plans to buy a stake in books on-demand publisher Sprout, Inc. in a move to distinguish itself and its online store from dominant competitors and

Borders agreed to take a minority interest in Sprout and will install Sprout’s digital book production service in the Borders fulfillment center in LaVergne, Tennessee.

Sprout, based in Atlanta, Georgia, prints single copies of perfect-bound paperback books using digital content stored by computer. In addition to using Sprout’s technology and relationships with publishers to start printing books as shoppers request them, Borders said it plans to help Sprout expand its digital book title base.

Tough at the Top

The move comes at a time when is trying to make a dent in Web pioneer’s and’s stronghold on the online book market.

Web research firm Media Metrix ranks number 15 among most visited Web sites, though investors continue to question its ability to eventually turn a profit., which went public last month, ranks number 38 on the Media Metrix chart. The Sprout deal did little for Borders’ stock, which has hung steadily in the $17 per share range since the announcement late Tuesday.

With Barnes & Noble making recent news with its alliance, Borders may be looking at the Sprout deal to draw some of the spotlight its way while boosting its online presence.

“Service and selection have always been Borders’ customer service hallmarks,” Borders Online President Rick Vanzura said. “We believe Sprout’s advanced technology will greatly enhance the customer experience in both of these critical areas.”

However, Borders’ deal with Sprout is not exclusive, as Sprout says it plans to “actively market” its service to other retailers and book publishers.

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