SIDEBAR: Asia-Pacific Rim behind U.S., Europe in Net usage

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When it comes to Internet usage, the technologically savvy Asia-Pacific Rim ranks a surprising third behind the U.S. and Europe. But explosive growth, particularly in Japan, has put this region on course to become the largest electronic commerce market outside the U.S., according to a new report on global Web markets.

By the end of 1998, Asia's online Internet subscriber base will top 5.5 million, a figure that will grow to 12.1 million by 2002, predicts Cowles/Simba Information's "International Online Markets 1998: Strategic Outlook & Forecast." That compares with 14 million active users in Europe and almost 18 million in the U.S. But it still represents only 5% penetration of the population compared with the U.S.'s 18%.

"Everyone assumes Asia is like the Jetsons -- they have all this cool stuff," says Rob Agee, author of the report and managing editor of Cowles' New Media & Marketing Group. "But in reality, they've only come to the Internet recently because Japan's efforts to consciously build an export economy stifled PC sales."

Indeed, the report claims the 1998 Japanese Internet resembles the U.S. market five years ago.

The report estimates that Japan leads the region in online subscribers, with 4.1 million users representing almost 75% market share. Australia is a distant second at 20%, followed by Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Currently, more than 60% of Japanese corporations are connected to the Internet. The country ranks fourth worldwide in domain name registration and has more than 1,500 Internet service providers.

In addition to Japan, Australia and Singapore are singled out as markets to watch. Australia, is the "most overlooked market and among the top two most active in the Pacific Rim." Its main advantage: 90% of residents speak English and their media habits reflect those of Americans.

"International Online Markets 1998" is available for $1,395 from Cowles/Simba Information, 11 River Bend Drive South, P.O. Box 4234, Stamford, Conn. 06907-0234; (800) 307-2529, ext. 344; or order on the Web.

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