Distribution, distribution, distribution

After seeing the three cavernous facilities that make up Barnes & Noble's three-year-old national distribution center in Jamesburg, N.J., it's hard to imagine that the bookseller concern itself with buying more distribution capacity.

Three enormous buildings cover 1 million square feet and house 750,000 titles. As many as 250 tractor trailers are queued up outside the main building at times, all disgorging thousands and thousands of books. Inside, activity continues throughout a 24-hour workday, as workers pack and unpack books, add titles into the company's massive 4.5 million-volume database, and hustle to fill orders pouring in from around the world to Barnesandnoble.com, as well as to supply the company's 1,000-plus retail outlets.

Distribution - once the sleepy side of the book business - has suddenly become a hot topic. Much of its new-found status derives from Amazon.com which has trained readers to expect near-instant gratification when it comes to delivery of books.

"Barnes & Noble and Amazon have done a very effective job of promising the customer we can do everything," says David Cully, president of distribution for Barnes & Noble. "Now we have to deliver on that."

One of the warehouses in the company's complex is devoted to its top 100,000 titles. Here shrink-wrapped stacks of "Mars and Venus on a Date" tower next to columns of "The Joy of Cooking."

But a second building houses 650,000 more unusual titles. Here a single copy of "The State Police Exam" is sandwiched between "The Origin and Early Division of Land Plants" and a picture book of "Western Ranch Houses."

"You're not going to find these books in any store in the US," Mr. Cully says. But over the Internet, customers are finding and ordering them. "Selection, selection, selection," Cully says. "That's what our customers are telling us they want."

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