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Archive for Saturday, January 16, 1999

ONLINE TEXTBOOK SELLER EXPANDS TO KU

January 16, 1999

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VarsityBooks.com gives Kansas University students an alternative to standing in line and purchasing books on campus.

VarsityBooks.com is angling for a bigger piece of the Kansas University textbook market -- worth more than $8 million each semester.

Starting with the spring 1999 semester, Washington, D.C.,-based VarsityBooks.com is expanding its Internet-based service from five northeastern universities to include KU and about 50 other schools across the nation.

On the site, textbook shoppers can find an alphabetical listing of KU's departments and required textbooks for each course offered.

"We are strongly committed to providing students around the country with an easy-to-use, cost-saving alternative to the traditional campus bookstores," Eric Kuhn, VarsityBooks.com chairman and chief executive officer, said in a news release. "VarsityBooks.com's expanded network of booklists will benefit nearly 1 million students during the Spring '99 semester."

Online stores selling popular book titles -- like Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com -- have been around for awhile. But selling textbooks on the Internet is a relatively new phenomenon.

The business is attracting attention from VarsityBooks.com and a few others because of the size of the market. At KU alone, textbooks are an $8.4 million business each semester, according to university estimates.

Nationally, the college textbook market is estimated to be worth $3 billion annually.

Though it just added KU's course list, the university's students -- like those at universities still not listed on the site -- had been able to order textbooks if they knew the book title, author or ISBN number. Only new books are available.

Bill Getz, textbook manager at the KU Bookstore in the Kansas Union, said it was too early to judge what impact VarsityBooks.com and similar sites would have on college bookstores. For now, he's not worried about it putting much of a dent in his business.

"From what I saw on their list," he said, "they duck a lot of titles and are very selective on what they carry. ... At this point, it isn't a source that people can use to buy all their textbooks."

Getz said he based his assessment on his look at a list of more than 100 textbooks used in KU's basic undergraduate courses.

At KU, students already can pre-order their books on Web sites operated by the KU Bookstores, University Book Shop or Jayhawk Bookstore and get discounts of about 5 percent.

At VarsityBooks.com, discounts range from 15 percent to about 40 percent, but customers pay for shipping.

VarsityBooks.com is preparing to launch a multimillion dollar marketing campaign. It will use 300 campus representatives, sponsor shows on MTV, announce a partnership with a large textbook publisher and include national and local print, broadcast and online advertising.

-- Richard Brack's phone message number is 832-7194. His e-mail address is rbrack@ljworld.com.

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