Bertelsmann Beats Amazon, Others to Japan

Beating such rivals as Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com to the market, German media giant Bertelsmann AG announced Tuesday the opening of an online bookstore in Japan, the fourteenth opening for BOL.com, Bertelsmann’s Internet unit.

With the Japanese store, BOL.com is continuing its ambitious push to open Internet bookstores across the globe after starting business in February 1999. The Japan opening might well be its most significant launch to date because the Japanese book market is recognized as the world’s second largest, and the country’s consumers as some of the most Internet-savvy.

The BOL Japan store will offer 500,000 Japanese book titles and plans to offer video and DVD games in the future. It will be based in Tokyo and operated as a joint venture with Japanese publishing house Kadokawa Shoten, which bought a 20 percent stake in the venture last month.

“Japan is clearly one of the fastest growing Internet markets,” said BOL.com CEO Heinz Wermelinger. “The potential for e-commerce is impressive.”

Moving Across Asia

BOL.com said that the Japanese online store is another step in a path of stepping stones extending across Asia. The company has already launched sites in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.

BOL.com has plans to launch an online store in China by the end of this year, and another in Korea by next year. The Asian expansion was preceded by launches across much of Europe, including Germany, France, the UK and Scandinavia. BOL.com said it has learned a great deal since its first launch and has been able to develop a strategy that takes it to market rapidly.

Formidable Competition

Backed with the might and muscle of its parent company — which approaches annual revenues of $14 billion (US$) — BOL.com is one of the more ambitious and aggressive e-commerce ventures going, particularly in this era of consolidation.

Still, it will have to contend with some formidable competition in Japan while hoping to tap into a market estimated to reach nearly $2 billion by 2004.

Convenience Model

Added to the mix is Japan’s largest convenience store chain, Seven Eleven Japan Co Ltd, which launched an online bookstore with ubiquitous Japanese Internet investor Softbank in November. Yahoo! Japan also has a hand in that venture.

Seven-Eleven Japan is expanding its e-commerce offerings with the launch of a Web site called 7dream.com on July 1st. According to the company, 7dream.com shoppers will be able to browse through over 100,000 items, including music, flowers, and photo supplies, place their orders online, and then go to their local 7-11 stores to pay for and collect their purchases.

Additionally, Japanese e-commerce ventures have established a system that allows consumers to purchase items over the Internet and make payments in cash at convenience stores. BOL Japan will offer that convenience, the company said, and will also transact credit card sales on its site.

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