SEATTLE -- A price war among the three biggest online booksellers broke out Monday when Amazon.com announced 50 percent off all New York Times best sellers, and Barnesandnoble.com and Borders.com immediately matched the discount.
The deep discounts will mean the companies will make little or no profit on the books, but the offer could stimulate sales of other more lucrative products as customers browse through the Web sites.
All three companies have traditionally offered best-selling books at discounts as deep as 40 percent below list price.
The offer will apply to both hardcover and paperback titles on The New York Times best-seller lists, which are updated weekly with at least 68 titles.
The move will probably cut deeper into traditional chain bookstores, said Christopher E. Vroom, an industry analyst in San Francisco.
"I think this will increase the pressure on smaller booksellers and result in further consolidation in the industry," Vroom said.
Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com and Borders are the No. 1, 2 and 3 Internet booksellers, respectively. Analysts generally believe that all three are losing money on their online operations.
Seattle-based Amazon.com announced the 50 percent off deal, only to be followed by its New York-based chief rival, Barnesandnoble, and then Borders, based in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Barnesandnoble vice president Ben Boyd said said the Times bestseller list accounted for less than 3 percent of overall revenue at Barnesandnoble.com.
By contrast, Vroom said, traditional chain bookstores in malls and general-purpose independent book retailers rely on best sellers for 30 percent to 35 percent of their business.
Amazon.com incurred a $36.4 million loss in this year's first quarter but has more than $1.4 billion in cash on its balance sheet following a giant bond offering in January. It has yet to make a profit. Barnesandnoble.com and Borders do not disclose earnings figures for their online operations.
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