AMAZONIAN CHALLENGE

CAN THE DARLING OF WEB RETAILERS SURVIVE WHEN THE BIG BOYS MOVE IN?

It was one of those ideas that are so inspired, you're amazed no one thought of it sooner. In July 1995 a Seattle-based start-up called Amazon.com Books launched a Website billed as "Earth's Biggest Bookstore," a million-title database that let Internet users search for any in-print book written in English, then use their credit card to have selections mailed to them.

The service, brainchild of ex-Wall Streeter Jeff Bezos, 33, is widely considered the hottest retail site in cyberspace. Few book lovers would forgo entirely the joys of browsing an actual bookstore, but Amazon offers considerable pleasures of its own. The...

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