The Borders Group has acquired a 19.9% stake in Sprout Inc., a digital book wholesaler located in Atlanta. The alliance with Sprout, which has a database of about 1300 books, is expected to accelerate Borders's entry into the on-demand printing business.

Borders plans to install Sprout's production facility in its LaVergne, Tenn., fulfillment center some time this year. Borders's Ann Binkley told PW the company's "first priority is [to] get the machine operational in LaVergne, so we can get comfortable with it. We'll then decide on a time line to roll it out to stores." Binkley said it was uncertain at this point if the Sprout system will be in stores in 2000, although she added that once the machine is working in LaVergne, Borders's customers can place a special order for any title in the Sprout database.

The agreement with Borders is not exclusive, and Sprout spokesperson Ashley Gordon indicated the company is actively looking to sign on additional retailers. One store that has already committed to the program is Engineers Bookstore in Atlanta. Currently, installation of the Sprout system costs about $40,000, or about $1000 a month to lease. Gordon noted that the company is working to get the costs down and that she expects to be able to make an announcement in that regard within the next few months.