Chinese Books Cyberstore's Final Chapter

Launched in January 1997, the site primarily sold Chinese-language books. While many local e-commerce sites offered drab presentation, limited selection and poor customer service, CBC was like a Chinese-language version of Amazon.com Inc.

As the site's popularity grew, especially among overseas Chinese users, so did its revenues. Chinese CDs and DVDs, as well as Chinese arts and crafts that appealed to customers in the U.S. and Canada, were added this past year to the site's inventory of more than 230,000 book titles.

But there was also an obvious market of Chinese readers closer to home, particularly in mainland China, that was too lucrative to be ignored. In fact, when the Australian Internet company LibertyOne acquired a 25 percent stake in CBC last September, it saw the investment as a way to bolster its presence in China.

While CBC was trying to focus on satisfying two very different target markets, there was also disagreement earlier this year over whether it should tap into Hong Kong's shortlived IPO frenzy, or focus on building a brand and eventually selling it to a larger company, according to a former executive of the company who declined to be named.

Cracks in CBC started appearing in early June when chief executive Philip Leung left the company, followed by chief financial officer Anna Tham.

LibertyOne's sinking share price also didn't help. The Australian company's share offer, worth almost $10 million when the deal was made, has dropped in value by more than 70 percent. Last week the U.S. technology company Cyber Sentry made a bid to take over LibertyOne.

A LibertyOne spokesperson declined to comment on what other opportunities had been considered before the board of CBC recommended that the company should be liquidated.

ITVentures did not return phone calls seeking comment.

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Joanne Lee-Young

PC World

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