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'As seen on TV'

Book sales go high-tech

Suze Orman, author of "The Nine Steps to Financial Freedom," on QVC

(CNN) -- Americans spend about $18 billion a year on books. And just as big chains have supplanted many mom-and-pop bookstores, so high-tech outlets are taking some of the sales out of traditional retail environments.

A few hundred million dollars of the book billions are currently sold on the Internet, an incentive that's prompting cable shopping channels to join booksellers in cyberspace.

In this new realm, digital retailers can challenge the traditional book shop's variety and availability of titles, while consumers provide their own atmosphere.

On one recent Sunday, Suze Orman, author of "The Nine Steps to Financial Freedom," sold 19,000 copies of her latest personal finance book. Since 1995, through QVC, she's sold about 400,000 books. "We did $6 million in sales last year," Orman said.

With its Internet component, the cable retailer sells a full range of books -- with no love lost among competing authors.

"The day that the Romance Club kicked off here on QVC...the sales were horrible," said Orman. "Who knows if they'll ever be back."

Still, between QVC and I-QVC (the cable channel's Internet business), total book sales have been in the millions. "It is a 100 percent digital commerce," said Doug Rose, marketing director for QVC. has never been a traditional bookseller

Some observers see it as the wave of the future.

"QVC's advantage is it's on 24 hours a day and it's an impulse buy," said John Tinker, a media analyst for NationsBank. "On the Internet, you're probably more interested and you're using more of the catalogue function to go find a title that might be a little more obscure."

34,000 Internet sites sell books, with big names like Barnes & Noble, Borders and Waldenbooks. Even Wal-Mart offers thousands of books on web sites.

In the bookselling food chain, the mega stores have all but eaten up small book sellers. Whether their sales will be devoured by the Internet depends on the unpredictable appetite of readers.

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