NEF - Le Livre 010101 de Marie Lebert - From the Print Media to the Internet

From the Print Media to the Internet (1999)
3. On-Line Bookstores

3.1. Books: a Good Product to Sell On-line
3.2. On-line Bookstores: Some Examples
3.3. Digital Books

3.1. Books: A Good Product to Sell On-Line

Many "traditional" bookstores - with booksellers, windows, books piled upon display shelves or lined up on shelves around the shop - have created on-line bookstores on the Internet - for example, Barnes & Noble ( in the United States, Chapters (Chaptersglobe) in Canada, Waterstone's in the United Kingdom, etc. Other bookstores have no walls and no windows looking out on the street. They are "only" on-line (for example in the United States, Internet Bookshop in the United Kingdom). Their window is their website, and all the transactions are made through the Internet.

These on-line stores don't sell only books, but also CDs, audiobooks, DVDs, computer games, sheet music, movies on VHS, console and CD-ROM software games, etc. As we are dealing here with the relationship between the print media and the Internet, we shall focus on books only.

The book-lover searches the on-line bookstore's catalog on his screen. In most cases, searches are possible by author, title and subject. The home page of the bookstore often looks like a literary magazine, so the book-lover can be kept informed of the latest current events. For someone who does not like queuing in his favorite library on a Saturday afternoon, the Web can bring a lot of relief. He can "leaf" through short descriptions and extracts of books, order on-line the books he is interested in and pay with his credit card. The only delay encountered is the time necessary for the book to be shipped to his house. Such a person is looking forward to being equipped with a digital book, which will appear in 1999.

Jeff Bezos created in July 1995, after a market study which led him to conclude that books were the best products to sell on the Internet.

In Spring 1994, he drew up a list of 20 products that could be sold on the Net, from clothing to gardening tools, and then researched his top five: CDs, videos, computer hardware, computer software, and books.

"I used a whole bunch of criteria to evaluate the potential of each product, but among the main criteria was the size of the relative markets. Books, I found out, were an $82 billion market worldwide. The price point was another major criterion: I wanted a low-priced product. I reasoned that since this was the first purchase many people would make on-line, it had to be non-threatening in size. A third criterion was the range of choice: there were 3 million items in the book category and only a tenth of that in CDs, for example. This was important because the wider the choice, the more the organizing and selection capabilities of the computer could be put in good use."

However, Jeff Bezos doesn't think traditional bookstores are going to close any time soon, as quoted by Bruce Knecht in The Wall Street Journal of May 16, 1996:

"He regularly hangs out at the Elliott Bay Book Co., a sprawling, independent bookstore in downtown Seattle which has exposed brick walls, a cafe and lots of friendly salespeople. And he talks about how 'books creak in that nice kind of way'. 'We are trying to make the shopping experience just as fun as going to the book store', he says, 'but there's some things we can't do'."

3.2. On-Line Bookstores: Some Examples is the largest on-line bookstore, with instant access to 3 million titles, authoritative reviews, author interviews, excerpts, customer reviews, and book recommendations. It is an Internet retailer of books, music, and other information-based products that offers services traditional retailers cannot: lower prices, selection, and a wealth of product information.

Today offers 3 million books, CDs, audiobooks, DVDs, computer games - more than 14 times as many titles as the large chain superstores - to more to 3 million people in more than 160 countries. "Businesses can do things on the Web that simply cannot be done any other way", says Jeff Bezos. "We are changing the way people buy books and music."

Any book-lover can post his own reviews of books and read others. He can read interviews with authors and blurbs and excerpts from books. He can search for books by author, subject, title, ISBN or publication date. Prices are discounted, with savings of 20-40% on 400,000 titles (40% on selected feature books, 30% on hardcovers, and 20% on paperbacks). The client usually receives the books within a week. If he requests it, he will receive an e-mail announcing a new book by an author he likes or on a subject he is particularly interested in. He can also choose from 44 subjects, and he will be sent a monthly e-mail reviewing books's editors consider particularly interesting.

Success magazine of July 1998 wrote "that is the universal model for successful Internet retailing (a.k.a. 'e-tailing')." Computer Weekly of July 24, 1997, defined it as "undoubtedly the most quoted example of go-ahead electronic commerce and still the showcase for Internet trading" and PC World of July 1997 stated: "In the summer of 1995, Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, decided to risk it all on the Internet. They opened a cyberstore named [...]. Two years later [...] it's one of the World Wide Web's most successful small businesses. Few who have braved the wilds of the Web have achieved success."

Such success is explained by Jeff Bezos in's press kit:

"Our leadership position comes from our obsessive focus on customers. [...] Customers want selection, ease of use, and the lowest prices. These are the elements we work hard to provide. We continued to improve our customer experience during the quarter [the second quarter 1998] with the opening of our music store, our easier-to-navigate store layout, and our expansion into the local U.K. and German book markets. These initiatives will continue to require aggressive investment and entail significant execution challenges."'s press release of June 8, 1998, gives some information about its Associates Program:

"The Associates Program allows web-site owners to easily participate in hassle-free electronic commerce by recommending books on their site and referring visitors to In return, participants earn referral fees of up to 15 percent of the sales they generate. handles the secure on-line ordering, customer service, and shipping and sends weekly e-mail sales reports. Enrollment in the program is free, and participants can be up and running the same day.

Associates range from large and small businesses to nonprofits, authors, publishers, personal home pages, and more. The popularity of the program is reflected in the range of additions to the Associates Community in the past few months: Adobe, InfoBeat, Kemper Funds, PR Newswire, Travelocity, Virtual Vineyards, and Xoom."

The program surpassed 60,000 members in June 1998.

Barnes & Noble, the giant U.S. bookseller, is the leading operator of book superstores in America, with 481 stores nationwide, in 48 states. It also operates 520 B.Dalton bookstores in shopping malls. Barnes & Noble stores offer a selection of more than 175,000 titles from more than 20,000 publishers with an emphasis on small, independent publishers and university presses. The company also publishes books under its own imprint for exclusive sale through its retail stores and nationwide mail-order catalogs.

Barnes & Noble entered the world of on-line commerce in early 1997, launching its America Online site in March 1997 - it is the exclusive bookseller to America Online (AOL)'s more than 12 million subscribers - and launching its new website,, in May 1997. The site includes personalized content recommendations from authors and editors, and more than 630,000 titles available for immediate shipping, with deep discounts (30% off all in-stock hardcovers, 20% off all in-stock paperbacks, 40% off select titles and up to 90% off bargain books). It has exclusive partnerships with more than 12,000 websites through its Affiliate Network, including CNN Interactive, Lycos, and ZDNet.

On May 27, 1998, launched a significantly enhanced version of its e-commerce website. The new site features Express Lane one-click ordering, a new design and navigation, improved book search capabilities and expanded product offerings - including an on-line software superstore. In the press release of the same day, Jeff Killeen, chief operating officer, stated:

"Through our first year in business we have listened intently to what our customers have asked for and believe we have delivered a vastly superior product based on those requests. [...] Innovation based on customer-focus has been the hallmark of our success and we see our new site as proof-positive of our commitment to be the leader in on-line bookselling and related products. We're also extremely excited to have Intel, a leader in the technology products category, open its site at"

The opening of sparked a fierce price war in a low-margin business. It now competes directly with the main on-line bookstore Because of this competition, came to be known as "Amazon.toast". Jeff Bezos, CEO of, doesn't fear the competition though. In Success of July 1998, he told journalist Lesley Hazleton:

"The gap has increased rather than decreased. We went from $60 million annualized sales revenue in May to $260 million by the end of the year, and from 340,000 customers to 1.5 million, 58 percent of them repeat customers - all that in the context of 'Amazon.toast'. We're doing more than eight times the sales of Barnes & Noble. And we're not a stationary target. We were blessed with a two-year head start, and our goal is to increase that gap."

Located in United Kingdom, Internet Bookshop (iBS) is the largest on-line bookstore in Europe. The main English bookstore Waterstone's also launched its electronic bookstore, with a catalog of 1.4 million titles.

In Fall 1998, Chapters, the main Canadian bookseller, together with the daily newspaper The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Canada, opened their cyberbookstore, "the on-line destination for Canadian book-lovers". A new on-line bookstore is also expected from Bertelsmann, one of the largest media companies in the world, with headquarters in Germany. The companies of the Bertelsmann Group employ about 60,000 employees in more than 40 different countries. The 300-plus independently operating firms are organized into five divisions within an integrated leadership structure: books, entertainment, Gruner & Jahr (publishing and printing house), industry, and multimedia.

There are also international suppliers of books and periodicals - like the two Anglo-American companies Blackwell and Dawson - who work exclusively for libraries and documentation services. Thanks to them, these organizations can now avoid multiple orders and invoices, and they can also order foreign books and periodicals without the complications related to ordering of documents outside a country.

Based in Oxford (United Kingdom), Portland, Oregon, and New Jersey, Blackwell's Book Services specialize in the supply of books and value added bibliographic products and services to over 15,000 academic, research and special libraries in over 120 countries around the world.

Dawson Information Services Group is Europe's largest journal subscription agent and corporate and academic book supplier. It is also a main information services group, providing resource acquisition and management services to libraries and corporate research centers around the globe.

Old books are now being sold through the Web. For example, Paulus Swaen Old Maps and Prints, run by Pierre Joppen and his wife Joke Vrijenhoek, specializes in maps, atlases and globes from the 16th-18th century. The stock of maps of all parts of the world is produced by renowned cartographers, such as Ortelius, Mercator, Blaeu, Janssonius, Hondius, Visscher, de Wit, etc. The company also sells atlases, globes, travel books, Medieval manuscripts and playing cards. Since November 1996, it offers an on-line Internet auction - twice per year, in March and November - for old maps, prints, globes, travel books and medieval manuscripts.

3.3. Digital Books

When he buys through an on-line bookstore, the customer can almost instantly select, order and pay for the books he is interested in. The only delay is the shipping of the books to his house, which can take anywhere from one week to much longer.

The problem of delay - as well as the problem of weight - should be solved soon with digital books - or eBooks. A digital book is a book-sized electronic reader that can store many texts at once. Some pioneer companies have created digital books which will be available in 1999 - such as the Rocket eBook (created by NuvoMedia), the Everybook (EB) (created by Everybook), the SoftBook (created by SoftBook Press) and the Millennium EBook (created by

Rocket eBook was set up by NuvoMedia, Palo Alto, California, founded in 1997, and is dedicated to becoming *the* electronic book distribution solution by providing a networking infrastructure for publishers, retailers and end users to publish, distribute, purchase and read electronic content securely and efficiently over the Web. Investors of NuvoMedia are Barnes & Noble and Bertelsmann. The connection between the Rocket eBook and the PC or the Macintosh is made through the RocketEbook Cradle, which provides external power through a wall transformer, and connects to the PC with a serial cable.

Everybook is "a living library in a single book". The Everybook (EB)'s mass electronic storage is one removable disk cartridge which can hold 80-100 college textbooks, or 500 to 1,000 novels. The EB uses a hidden modem to dial into the Everybook Store, where it is possible to browse, purchase, and receive entire publications, including cover art. Books, magazines, menus, sheet music all appear as they would in their printed form.

Softbook Press is creating SoftBook®, along with the SoftBook Network&trade, an Internet-based content delivery service, which provided a completely paperless reading system. Professionals and students can easily, quickly and securely download a wide selection of corporate documents, books, and periodicals using its built-in Internet connection. Unlike a computer, the SoftBook is ergonomically designed for reading long documents and books. Its publishing partners are Random House and Simon & Schuster.

Librius is a full-service, e-commerce company. It delivers digital copies of books to consumers via the Internet from its World Bookstore. The digital books are stored and read by the consumer in a small, low-cost reading device, called the Millennium EBook. Librius customers can obtain everything that they need to become "digital readers" directly from the Librius Web site, including EBook devices, thousands of book titles, and full customer support.

Digital books will not replace books, at least not in the very near future. They will be a new support for publishers to deliver the books through the Internet and for readers to store many texts in one digital support to be taken with everywhere.

In our technological society, some people are attached to books whatever happens, like Robert Downs who wrote in Books in My Life: "My lifelong love affair with books and reading continues unaffected by automation, computers, and all other forms of the twentieth-century gadgetry."

For some other people, being convinced about how much can be brought by electronic texts doesn't prevent them from loving books. In an article published in the Swiss magazine Informatique-Informations of February 1996, Pierre Perroud, founder of the digital library Athena, explained that "electronic texts represent an encouragement to reading and a convivial participation to culture dissemination", particularly for textual research and text study. These texts are "a good complement to the paper book, which remains irreplaceable when what we are talking about is reading".

Pierre Perroud is convinced of the necessity to be kept closely informed of the technological developments to adapt print media and education. Nevertheless the book remains "a mysteriously holy companion with profound symbolism for us: we grip it in our hands, we hold it against our bodies, we look at it with admiration; its small size comforts us and its content impresses us; its fragility contains a density we are fascinated by; like man it fears water and fire, but it has the power to shelter man's thoughts from Time."

Chapter 4: Publishers on the Web
Table of Contents

From the Print Media to the Internet
Le Livre 010101: Home Page
NEF: Home Page

© 1999 Marie Lebert