Erich Riesenberg:PriceSCAN.com is the best web price-comparison service I’ve seen. Very thorough. Hard to see how Amazon will ever be profitable, especially as broadband improves and checking prices becomes an automatic feature. Explorer and Netscape will probably have a BUY button, person will enter item name, list of cheapest site to buy it will come up automatically and person will just hit a CONFIRM button.”

[If it’s only books you’re after, you might try http://www.boolah.com. This must be run out of someone’s garage because the server is always busy. It searches for your book at Amazon but also shows the prices at Barnes & Noble and Borders, letting you link straight to your book there if one’s cheaper. The plus: It’s fast and convenient (or will be once they have it running right). Just an extra four seconds to save $1.40. (The book I checked was discounted 30% at all three booksellers, but from a list price of $24.95 at Amazon versus just $22.95 at Barnes & Noble.) The minus: It only checks the Big Three. You’ll generally save more at, for example, booksamillion.com.]

My own feeling, oft expressed, is that e-commerce is great for consumers and the economy but will be no bonanza to most investors. E-commerce makes price comparisons so easy, it heightens competition. Competition is tough on profits — and hence investors (should the day ever return when stock prices are related in some way to profits).

I think the ultimate winners will be the folks who control the Seinfeld reruns.

Right? Anything you watch — even your screen saver — will have little tabs across the top, and a little window to type in what you want: “A Case of Bud Light.” You’ll then click “add to my regular order” (so it gets aggregated with the rest of the stuff you’ve elected to have delivered Every Tuesday Between Six and Nine) or “NOW!” (so the Domino’s Pizza guy comes racing over with it).

Whatever you’re watching will be your shopping portal . . . and the chances are, Seinfeld reruns will be capturing a lot of eyeballs. In the New York Metropolitan area at 11pm there are two kinds of people: those watching Seinfeld on “the WB” and those racing home from dinner to do so.

Or the portal could be even more basic than that. The top inch of your computer screen might be controlled by the computer maker itself. (You’d put up with this because the computer, thus subsidized, would be irresistibly cheap.) There, at the top of the screen, no matter what you were doing or watching, you could click a BUY button and Dell or Compaq or IBM or whoever controlled that button would rake off its little piece of the action as it found you the item you wanted at the lowest price — a price so low the vendor could hardly make much from the transaction.

OK, I’ll admit to being out of my depth here. A lot of smart people have spent a lot more time thinking this through than me. But tell me again why AMZN, which I love and admire, but which has never made a dime of profit, and owns very little that Barnes & Noble does not, is worth twelve times as much? Why it is worth three times as much as The New York Times Company? Why it is worth substantially more than Federal Express and United Airlines combined?

 

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