What kind of role Barnes & Noble will play in the digital future became a little clearer this morning with the retailer’s announcement that it has acquired Fictionwise, one of the largest independent e-book retailers, for $15.7 million plus incentives over the next two years for achieving certain performance targets. Fictionwise, which operates the Fictionwise.com and eReader.com Web sites, was founded in 2000 by Steve and Scott Pendergast, who will continue to head the company B&N said it will operate as a separate business unit based in New Jersey. B&N added, however, that Fictionwise is part of its overall digital strategy, which includes launching an e-bookstore later this year. Last month, PW reported that B&N had plans to open an e-bookstore sometime in March; the company had no comment at the time.

In a post on the Fictionwise.com site, the Pendergasts had a brief q&a that noted they will continue to run both the Fictionwise.com and eReader.com Web sites as e-book retail sites. The purchase by B&N “is very good news for eBook customers at both websites. Customers can expect to see more eBook content than ever before,” the brothers wrote. They said they decided to sell the company because with the rapid expansion of the e-book market, they were “looking for the right partner with a shared vision on the future of the industry. Barnes & Noble was an excellent match.”