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Online book war heats up

As the lucrative holiday season approaches, online booksellers are offering various services to differentiate themselves.

Online booksellers are gearing up for what may be one of the most profitable periods in e-commerce in the last several years.

According to studies by Forrester Research, fourth-quarter online sales are expected to reach $750 million, with $156 million of that in book sales. With revenues like that up for grabs, online booksellers and are hedging their bets by offering special holiday promotions. has set up a "holiday gift center" featuring a gift wrapping service, book suggestions from celebrities, a GiftMatch feature for help in picking out gift books, stocking-stuffers, and holiday discounts. is tying its holiday promotions to an ad campaign on its affiliate network of sites, including CNN, Condé Nast, and USA Today, directing traffic to its gift center through ad banners as well as offering free shipping on orders over $50 through some banners.

According to Susan Boster, director of marketing for, the holiday campaign is part of the company's attempts to draw mass consumers to its online store.

"The promise that comes along with the Barnes & Noble brand to all of the consumers at large, its pretty compelling," Boster said.

Amazon is featuring a gift center as well, which builds on Amazon's book recommendation service with gift ideas for children of different ages as well as "the person who has everything." Amazon is also selling gift certificates, which are available via email or on paper.

Borders Books, which is expected to launch its online store sometime early next year, is missing out on what is shaping up to be a very strong quarter for electronic commerce. Aside from not being able to share in fourth-quarter online sales, Borders will have to overcome missing out on customers who are making their first foray into holiday shopping online this year.