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E-tailers Duel on Shipping Charges

Q. Which came first, free shipping on two or more books from Amazon.com, or free shipping on two more books at Barnes & Noble.com?

A. Does it really matter? One nice thing about online competition is that consumers benefit.

That's just what is happening in the e-commerce book store wars, where Barnes & Noble.com issued a press release touting a new free shipping offer on "everything we sell" if you buy two or more.

"Customer orders of two or more items purchased from the company's selection of books, CDs, video/DVDs, magazines, and eBooks will be sent free of shipping charges to any destination in the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii," B & N said.

Meanwhile, visitors to Amazon.com were getting a pop-up window saying much the same thing.

"For qualifying orders, the price you see is the price you get--you'll no longer need to factor in shipping charges at the end of your order," Amazon told its visitors.

Amazon, which stopped short of issuing a press release, goes on to say: "We've also changed our pricing on some books, CDs, DVDs, and videos: for some products prices have stayed the same, for some products prices are lower, and for some products we've reduced our discounts."

The phrase, "reduced our discounts," apparently is a euphemism for a price increase without actually saying prices have increased.

Steve Riggio, vice chairman of Barnes & Noble.com, said "we're offering free shipping without changing our prices or making any fine-print exceptions."

Meanwhile, over at online bookseller Borders.com, standard shipping remains $3.30 per order plus 99 cents per item. Of course, this being the Web, that could change any second now.