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Published on .

(July 24, 2001) PARIS -- In a further sign of the declining fortunes of all things Internet,officials from France's Vivendi Universal and Germany's Bertelsmann have agreed to pull the plug on their French e-commerce joint venture, Books-On-Line (www.bol.fr), effective Aug. 1.

Experts cite a variety of reasons for the closure, including Bol.fr's failure to keep pace with e-commerce offerings from leading French cultural goods retailer FNAC and the juggernaut posed by the mid-2000 arrival in France of top e-tailer Amazon.com.

The BOL.fr closure signals yet another nail in the coffin of the Internet business model of acquiring clients through advertising and raising additional revenues via on-site publicity. BOL.fr spent millions on advertising from Havas Advertising-owned BETC Euro RSCG since its February 1999 debut -- including a humorous, yet amazingly dated launch campaign that promised consumers "the right to shop in one's underwear" -- but failed to attract the visitor numbers or revenues seen by competitors FNAC, Amazon or France Telecom-owned Alapage.fr.

Bertelsmann is not completely pulling out of the French online sector, however. Its DirectGroup Bertelsmann division has acquired France Loisirs book club, including the 50% stake held by Vivendi, and has already converted the BOL.fr site into a mirror for France Loisirs.

Vivendi and Bertelsmann are not the only would-be Internet giants tossing in the towel. Swiss publishing group AGEFI -- owner of leading financial daily L'Agefi, is looking to dump its own failed Internet venture, a French-language new-economy magazine titled Futur(e)s, launched with much fanfare in late-2000.

The downturn in the new-economy has crushed sales of Futur(e)s, which hover around 25,000 copies monthly, or about one-quarter of the pan-European sales commitment made at the time of the launch, supported with an important advertising campaign from Havas' Euro RSCG Works, Paris. -- Lawrence J. Speer

Copyright July 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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