Author:Hudson, Peter
Position:Online book sellers

WITH ITS OWN CHAIN OF BOOKSTORES, PUBlishing house and distributors generating a total of about US$35 million in sales this year, Argentina's Yenny knew the ins-and-outs of the book business. Instead of trying to re-create a store online to sell titles, however, "we looked at what you can't do in a shop," says Emesto Skidelsky, the company's marketing manager. Innovations include the option of downloading the first chapter of 500 books, book reviews and cross-references to bestseller lists.

After only a year, Yenny.com is the leading Spanish-language online bookstore, but it is still very much a work in progress. The company has invested $1 million in web servers, powerful databases and online security systems. "It's up and running," Skidelsky explains, "but after start up, you see what needs improving." The site, for example, now sports fewer graphic elements so that it runs faster and buyers can customize their searches.

The fine-tuning of the site to better meet customers' needs reflects the company's vision that service is the key to online success. "Technology is a commodity," Skidelsky says. "Today I've got it, tomorrow someone in Colombia has it. There will always be someone who sells cheaper, so you can't compete on price. The only difference is added value. Convenience, speed, service, ease of use. That was what we were aiming for."

The company built the site using its existing database of 100,000 books. But the old system, designed for retailers, contained bare-bones data. To make the database more attractive to consumers, the firm improved each title's presentation with details like sleeve notes and book jackets.

Yenny has a staff of nine people working on its site and plans to take on three more solely to update information. Progress has been slowed by a lack of local Internet culture. Some Argentine publishers have refused to supply book jackets, for instance. "They don't see the business on the Internet," Skidelsky complains, "so we have to assume all the costs."

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