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Tech Industry

Bookstores take on corporate market

Computer Literacy and barnesandnoble.com see opportunity in selling books to businesses.

    While most online bookstores, including Amazon.com, are pursuing consumers, Computer Literacy and barnesandnoble.com are vying to become the preferred bookshops of corporate America.

    Computer Literacy today announced it has set up in-house intranet bookstores for more than 60 companies; it also said it's expanding its offerings beyond computer-related books to add titles for financial services, science, engineering, and mathematics.

    Meanwhile barnesandnoble.com, which lists 8.1 million titles on its Web site, has similar deals with about 45 companies since it launched in July.

    "It's not about price," said e-commerce analyst Erina DuBois of Dataquest."It's about getting the best content for their needs and getting it quickly and easily."

    Internet commerce analysts have pinpointed sales to businesses as a larger growth opportunity than selling to consumers, and analyst firm Yankee Group expect sales to business to reach $138 billion this year and $541 billion in 2003.

    Books and "knowledge products" are major components of corporate spending on routine items, said C.J. Glynn, corporate marketing manager at Ariba Technologies which markets software to automate the procurement of everyday items like office supplies, computers, travel, or books.

    The chief advantage for corporations of having either barnesandnoble.com or Computer Literacy set up a book store on their intranet is that book-buying can be integrated into the corporate procurement system. That saves the expense and paperwork of issuing purchase orders, and it charges book purchases to the right department or individual.

    Both barnesandoble.com and Computer Literacy also run more traditional affiliate programs, which allows Web sites to offer books on their sites, then get a commission for any books sold on the bookstore's site. Amazon.com, which invented the concept, said some companies have joined its affiliate program to earn a commission on sales.

    Computer Literacy's intranet program lets a company decide which portions of the company's 500,000-plus titles to list on their intranet bookstore. Barnesandnoble.com lets a company highlight specific books on its bookstore page, but buyers can purchase any of the 8.1 million titles it carries.

    "Just about every corporate customer tells us they don't want Jewel CDs and The Joy of Sex on their intranets," said Chris MacAskill, Computer Literacy CEO. Some companies give gift certificates to employees who complete training programs, and controlling what books are sold assures that those awards will be used for work purposes.

    Computer Literacy also differentiates itself by carrying training CD-ROMs, manuals, and documentation from many computer manufacturers, running a print-on-demand service for customers who want to buy them.

    Michael Donahue, who heads barnesandnoble.com's intranet program, said that unlike the 75,000 affiliates in its program, intranet bookstores require active selling.

    "If we want to play, we don't think we can play passively," Donahue said. "You have to make a conscious decision to focus on this market."

    Computer Literacy has created an editorial department to work with corporations on highlight the books most appropriate for their employees.

    In addition to working with Ariba software, both Computer Literacy and BarnesandNoble also work with procurement software from Trilogy, which is targeted at the middle market, and Intelysis.

    Rowe.com offers a similar system to let companies manage subscriptions for magazines, newspapers, journals, and other periodicals online.