July 15, 1998 5:00 AM PDT

Book sites chase each other

The online book battle is beginning to look like the portal wars, with players constantly trying to one-up each other.

Barnes & Noble today made a Net push with its launch of a business-to-business e-commerce program dubbed Business Solutions, designed to gain users and revenue by appealing to customers via corporate intranets.

Its bookselling contender, Borders Books and Music, will host its first live online chat tonight in the form of a panel discussion featuring Michele Mitchell, author of A New Kind of Party Animal, a new book about young people's involvement in politics.

Both firms are trying to edge up in the growing competition in the Net bookselling space that consistently has been dominated by Amazon.com. Amazon, whose stock has skyrocketed of late, launched a music site last month.

Under Barnes & Noble's new program, users can purchase books and periodicals through Business Solutions, and companies can recommend specific titles on their corporate intranets that employees can then buy with a click of a mouse, the firm said.

Business-to-business e-commerce is seen as having tremendous growth potential. Market researcher International Data Corporation is forecasting that the market will grow to $177 billion by 2001, and Forrester Research predicts it will reach $327 billion by 2002.

Right now, the business-to-business e-commerce market is mostly made up of manufacturers and distributors of computer supplies, scientific equipment, office and industrial supplies, replacement parts, and electronics.

"Time is arguably the most important commodity in corporate America," Michael Donahue, director of Business Solutions, said in a statement. "That's why Lucent Technologies, Arthur Andersen, and others already have become BarnesandNoble.com Business Solutions clients."

Borders has hosted chats--powered by Talk City--to foster community, a catchphrase that is big among sites looking to increase traffic. The chat tonight, scheduled for 7 p.m. PT, is the first time the site is holding a scheduled event with featured speakers, according to a Borders spokeswoman. She noted that the site plans to host similar events in the future.

 

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