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Walmart.com aims at all-nighter book crowd

The online arm of Wal-Mart Stores unveils a college bookstore, entering a challenging industry that has seen many others flunk out.

Walmart.com unveiled a college bookstore Wednesday, entering a challenging industry that has seen many others flunk out.

With the back-to-school season approaching, the online arm of Wal-Mart Stores says it is offering more than 300,000 titles. It hopes to tap into the textbook market by cutting as much as 30 percent off the list price.

Estimates put the size of the college textbook market around $8 billion a year. College students buying four new textbooks during the spring semester of 2000 paid an average of more than $270, according to the National Association of College Stores.

"Already, some of our top-selling books are classic academic titles such as 'The Norton Anthology of Literature,'" Walmart.com spokeswoman Cynthia Lin said.

Scads of online bookstores for students cropped up in the late 1990s with the intent of offering better prices and more convenience than campus bookstores. But because textbooks are often large and cumbersome to ship, the delivery costs often ate up any savings.

The brick-and-mortar stores have held on to control of the industry as online leaders have struggled. Bigwords.com closed in October, and VarsityBooks.com moved away from peddling textbooks to focus on offering companies expertise in marketing to college students.

Besides the problems that could be associated with shipping, Walmart.com must also compete against the likes of eCampus.com and Amazon.com, which also offer thousands of textbook titles.

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