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Time Warner moves into Web retail

Optimism triumphs over experience as giant joins throng

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Time Warner made its move yesterday to become a Web retailer. Various divisions such as Warner Brothers' Studio Stores already have a Web presence, but the intention is to capitalise on the one billion page-views a month that TW's Pathfinder site receives. The company has not found the magic touch in the past, having established Pathfinder in 1994 and promoted it heavily -- despite calling it a "black hole". The CFO, Richard Bressler, was quoted yesterday as saying "We can't exactly see what the formula is for making money," despite the company's success in the mail order business, where it turns over more than $2 billion/year. The initial merchandise will consist of its own CDs, books and videos, but it expects to add other goods and services later. Murdoch's News Corp plans to open an online store next week to sell Fox-branded goods, and another to sell merchandise connected with Fox TV shows. Disney plans to expand its online retailing activities to include travel reservations to its theme parks. Being big is no guarantee of success. The oft-quoted Amazon.com and CDnow have yet to turn a profit. The hottest growth area at the moment seems to be auction sites, where online bidding continues for a period of days until a deadline. Even Sotheby's tried it in July, for books and manuscripts, raising $65,000 in the sale. ®

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