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Borders sales site launching tomorrow

The much-anticipated Borders e-commerce site will launch tomorrow, but will be in "preview" mode for the summer, a source says.

The new Borders Books and Music e-commerce site is in launch mode today and by tomorrow the company is expected to announce that it is up and running.

Access today to the full-fledged site, in preview mode, was spotty across the Net because of the time lag between mounting a new site and propagating it throughout the thousands of Net servers. But by tomorrow, the site--which will offer chat and localized content as well as music, books, and videos for sale--should be fully functional, a source close to the company said.

Analysts and competitors have been anticipating this day with mixed feelings. Books are among the Net's hottest consumer e-commerce. Amazon has built one of the best-known brands on the Net with its online bookstore. But bookstore giant Barnes & Noble has been giving Amazon a run for its money.

And now with the entrance of Borders and its huge inventory and popular offline brand, it's safe to say the titans are at war--while small stores and publishers face increased danger of being left out of the equation altogether.

CNET, publisher of NEWS.COM, has an agreement to make the exclusive bookseller on all of CNET's Web sites and services. In addition, CNET also has an agreement with Borders and subsidiary Walden Book Company for extensive retail promotion of CNET Web sites and Snap Online, including the distribution of the Snap Online Starter Kit CD-ROM in Borders and Walden Books stores nationwide.

Though Borders is late in entering the market, its sheer size and popularity make it an important contender, analysts say.

Like its competitors, the Borders site will be fully searchable and offer amenities such as recommendations. It also will offer chat through a partnership with Talk City, the source said.

The site will emulate the physical stores, which have cafes, with community features. The other sections will be books, music, video, children, computer books, and the Net cafe, where there will be chat and threaded discussions. Salon, the popular online culture magazine, will play a role in the site. (Borders has an equity stake in Salon.)

Each store also will eventually have its own site with listings of local author appearances and other localized features.

Borders is expecting to make in the neighborhood of $25 million in sales this year, said Ken Scheve, Borders chief financial officer. The firm brought in $2 billion in sales last year. By comparison, Amazon reported revenues of $87.4 million for the first quarter of this year.

Though it's difficult to say how much Amazon and Barnes & Noble have cut into Borders' business, the company is obviously hedging its bets by joining in what has been an extremely successful venture.

"We want to offer our own customers the opportunity to buy online from us," he said.

Borders is opening a "fulfillment center," a warehouse in Tennessee with 10 million books, CDs, and videos in stock.

The site will be in "preview" mode for the summer, though it will be fully functional beginning tomorrow, said the source. Users will be able to submit feedback via buttons throughout the site.