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Wednesday, September 15, 1999 Published at 16:55 GMT 17:55 UK

Business: The Company File

New chapter opens in online publishing

Dorling Kindersley is turning its website into a virtual bookstore

A top publisher is allowing free access to its books - by putting them all online.

Net users will soon be able to read any title by Dorling Kindersley instead of buying them in bookshops.

The aim is to create an online bookstore, where people can read or browse through books for reference or before buying.

Company chiefs deny the online initiative will kill off sales, saying the Internet can help boost awareness of its products. Instead, they say the move will be a revolutionary marketing initiative.

Site swamped

News of the move did almost kill off DK's website, though. Such was the demand on Wednesday that users routinely found they could not connect.

"We're the victims of our own publicity," said the Managing Director of DK Online, Alan Buckingham.

"We thought we had a big enough line. We have a 2Mbps line which should be big enough really but the server's sweating a bit so we're struggling to fix it."

DK Online hosts its own sites but had already been considering moving to an outside host, he said. The present 33,000 pages were likely to double or even treble by Christmas as a result of putting the books online.

"I think our experience today has made me think 'Sooner rather than later' on that one," he said.

Browse before buying

Dorling Kindersley is famous for children's, reference and cross-section books. It also publishes CDRoms and videos.

Mr Buckingham said: "We believe the customer is king and so his or her needs have to be at the heart of our business."

A company spokeswoman added: "It's not that different from a bookshop where you'd want to browse before buying.

"If people wanted to they could download every page but the cost in ink cartridges, paper and time online wouldn't make it worth it."

Any books ordered online are delivered free of charge anyway, the company says.

Profits rise

Already the complete text and illustrations of Dorling Kindersley's Star Wars are available online, as well as many volumes of its travel and language titles and the Maths Made Easy series.

The company said if publishing books online did hit sales, the service would be halted.

The news came as Dorling Kindersley announced pre-tax profits rose 28% to 11.5m in the year to June, before an 800,000 charge to close its Russian operations.

Two books - The Star Wars Episode I Incredible Cross Sections and Episode I Visual Dictionary - were the group's largest selling titles in the year, making 10.6m.

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