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.

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