May 17, 1999 3:55 PM PDT

Booksellers slash bestsellers

Amazon.com threatened to begin an Internet book sale war today by slashing prices 50 percent on some of its most popular books. As if on cue, both Barnesandnoble.com and Borders pitched similar discounts just hours after the Amazon pricing was announced.

Amazon will sell books on the New York Times bestseller list at 50 percent below list price. The price cuts apply to hardcover and paperback books in three categories on the Times' list: fiction, nonfiction, and advice/how-to books. The other two online bookstores will offer similar discounts.

The total for Amazon is only about 68 titles per week, but these are among the most popular books sold. During the summertime, occasional readers--not just bookworms--like to grab a book and head to the nearest swimming pool or beach.

"This is not a sale, this is not a promotion--this is everyday low pricing," Amazon.com chief executive Jeff Bezos said in a statement.

The moves may signal a deepening of the price war among the big online booksellers-all of which are sacrificing profits to build market share. But, said Barnesandnoble.com chief executive Jeff Bulkeley, "at our existing sales volume, the additional discount on bestsellers will have a minor effect on our operating margin."

Unlike Barnesandnoble.com, Borders explicitly cited Amazon's move as a reason for offering its own discount. "We won't allow incremental price differences to serve as a distraction to our customers and our mission, '' said Rick Vanzura, president of Borders Online.

Amazon's stock traded higher than 200 per share last month, but since has dropped to the 130s. Other Internet stocks also have been declining recently.

Still Amazon was up 5.25 to 137.6250 today. Barnes & Noble shares fell 1.125 to 33.1875. Borders shares were off 0.3125 to close at 16.

 

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