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Thursday, April 29, 1999 Published at 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK

Business: The Company File

WH Smith opens television bookshop

WH Smith is putting its faith in the Internet and interactive services

WH Smith, the UK book retailer and newsagent, has unveiled plans to sell books and stationery via the television screen.

The group has signed a deal with Open, a Rupert Murdoch-backed joint venture, and plans to introduce interactive services for people using new digital televisions.

[ image: Pick books off the shelf or the television screen]
Pick books off the shelf or the television screen
WH Smith hopes to begin selling books via digital television in September and will gradually extend its offer to stationery and other products if the initial venture proves successful.

The announcement came just days after WH Smith became the latest UK company to launch a free Internet service. The group believes that it can gain a competitive edge by concentrating on the educational market.

However, WH Smith is still facing a difficult time on the high street. It announced a fall in profits to £105m ($169.8m) for the six months to February, compared with £128m in same period of the previous year. Current sales growth is also flat.

Booking into the net

[ image: WH Smith is still facing tough competition on the high street]
WH Smith is still facing tough competition on the high street
WH Smith has launched a range of on-line services and information.

Developed in partnership with BT and Microsoft, WH Smith Online provides news, entertainment and education features.

CD-Rom discs will be available from WH Smith's 600 stores at a cost of 50p, with proceeds going towards a scheme for people with reading difficulties.

WH Smith said it will give a free disc to all 6,000 secondary and middle schools in England, Scotland and Wales and will take the service direct to schools with a series of roadshows.

WH Smith Online will offer free access to The Hutchinson Family Encyclopedia, plus National Curriculum guides with links to thousands of education sites.

A host of large UK retailers have followed the lead set by Dixons, which has already signed up 1.3m subscribers to its own free access service - Freeserve.

Open is a joint venture between Rupert Murdoch's British Sky Broadcasting, British Telecommunications, banking giant HSBC and Japanese group Matsushita.

Open also announced that it has signed up travel agent Going Places, the bank Abbey National, Manchester United football club, the Yellow Pages and the Press Association.

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