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Barnes & Noble launches book site

One day after suing its largest online competitor, giant bookseller Barnes & Noble opens its own online bookshop.

One day after suing its biggest online competitor, giant bookseller Barnes & Noble (BKS) today opens its own online bookshop.

The new site, set to launch at 9 a.m. PT, adds new features to the bookseller's site on America Online, which it launched earlier this year. The Web site features live author chat sessions, book reviews, commentary, book excerpts, audiovisual effects, and author biographies.

"Books are the only thing we do, and we hope this will help expand the marketplace for books," said Steve Riggio, chief operating officer, who oversees the online effort.

Barnes & Noble yesterday filed suit against Amazon.com, the pioneering Web bookseller, challenging Amazon's claim that it is the largest online bookseller. Barnes & Noble claims to stock over 400,000 titles, many more than Amazon.com. (See related story)

The lawsuit came as Amazon.com conducted its "road show" to sell investors on its initial public offering, expected to raise some $34 million. Amazon.com had been expected to go to market this week, but the lawsuit could delay that move.

Web-only bookseller Amazon.com is not the only competition for B&N. Riggio also mentioned CUC International, a direct marketer of many catalog items that recently bought a discount book retailer. Borders Group, another book chain, and a number of major publishing houses, including Simon & Schuster, have announced Web plans.

Barnes & Noble operates about 1,000 B. Dalton and Barnes & Noble bookstores and reported 1996 revenues of $2.4 billion.

Riggio said Barnes & Noble has a separate organization of nearly 100 people working on its online initiatives.

The community aspect of the Barnes & Noble site will be created with software tools from Firefly Network that contain personal preferences of individual users, who can connect online with others who share similar tastes and get recommendations from Barnes & Noble's editorial staff.

Users also can search the database of more than 1 million titles. The site will run on Hewlett-Packard hardware and Microsoft software.

Scott Adams, creator of the popular "Dilbert" cartoon, will host a live celebrity chat May 19 at 6:30 p.m. PT.