Bits & Bytes
Textbooks: The New War Zone on the Web
THE INTERNET BOOK WARS ARE TAKING AN ACADEMIC TURN. On Jan. 4, Follett Corp., the largest distributor of college textbooks, opened an electronic storefront to sell books online and is backing that up with a $10 million ad campaign. It's a body blow to VarsityBooks.com, the pioneer in selling college textbooks online, which opened shop last August.
The eFollet.com site will be promoted in print, radio, and TV ads urging students to "Get Out of Line." To fight back, upstart VarsityBooks.com will spend as much as $3 million in the next six weeks on radio and online ads, as well as print ads in over 100 college papers. Selling textbooks online is a no-brainer, since students have ready Web access at college, says Eric Kuhn, 28, VarsityBooks' chief executive.
While both companies hope to attract some of the same feverish interest that Amazon.com has received, Follett and VarsityBooks are using different marketing approaches to get a piece of the $5 billion textbook market. VarsityBooks is targeting penny-pinchers with 15% to 40% discounts on new books. Follett offers credits worth about 5% of each sale for future purchases, but it also emphasizes convenience by allowing students to pick up books at college stores. It looks like a textbook case of yet another E-commerce war.EDITED BY PETER ELSTROMReturn to top
Have Plug, Can Play--Anywhere
FIRST THERE WAS PLUG-AND-PLAY TECHNOLOGY, which allows PC users who don't have PhDs in rocket science to easily plug printers and external disk drives into their computers.
Now, there's Universal Plug and Play (UPP). The software allows users to link PC devices with other devices, such as a portable scanner with a digital camera, without a ton of configuration hassles. For example, a salesman on the road could easily print out a document from his portable computer on his client's printer. That's because UPP assigns each device an Internet address to allow it to communicate with other devices over the Internet or corporate networks.
Microsoft Corp. was scheduled to introduce UPP at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 7. It is at least a partial response to Sun Microsystems Inc.'s JINI technology, a competing system that does some of the same things. But don't tell that to Microsoft. "We've spent 10 years building this stuff. Sun just got started," sniffs Charles Fitzgerald, a group product manager at Microsoft.EDITED BY PETER ELSTROMReturn to top
Is Your Online Broker Any Good?
AS ONLINE STOCK TRADING BECOMES INCREASINGLY POPULAR, investors have had one nagging concern: If trading activity surges, will my broker become too overloaded to handle my trades?
Now, Keynote Systems Inc. is offering a way for investors to find the best-performing online brokers. Starting in mid-December, the San Mateo (Calif.) company began ranking brokers on two factors: how long it takes to download pages from their Web sites and what percentage of the time the sites are available. The research is data-intensive: Keynote samples 20 sites from 50 different locations every 15 minutes. "What we're measuring is how well a site is constructed," says Umang Gupta, Keynote's chairman and chief executive.
The early results may be a bit of a shock. Some of the most popular online brokers, notably Charles Schwab and E*Trade Securities, have been among the worst-performing, while the top-rated ones tend to be lesser-known brokers, such as Web Street Securities and Mr. Stock.EDITED BY PETER ELSTROMReturn to top