While Amazon.de and BOL continue to attract press as non-English-language online booksellers, one foreign retailer has quietly built a Web presence despite little hype and no experience in the bookselling or publishing arenas.

Belgium-based Proxis.be sells books in English, Dutch and French to the Western European market, via three storefronts, each in a different language. The company was launched in 1997 with an investment from Mitiska, a venture-capital firm, and stockbroker KBC Securities (through two rounds of financing, Proxis has received BF75 million, almost $2 million); Proxis.be now carries 2.6 million titles.

The bookseller could not provide sales figures, but it reported that about three-quarters of its sales come from books, the remainder from CDs. It fulfills all its orders through wholesalers and accepts orders in a variety of currencies, including the euro. The company will soon move to video products and may add other items as well.

But perhaps Proxis's strongest consumer advantage has been its pricing policies. It is among the first booksellers in Europe to offer steep discounts on the Web, selling bestsellers at 46% off. These discounts haven't been without opposition. When it first began shipping to the Netherlands, the company apparently ran into political opposition because of a Net Book agreement. If any doubt existed that Proxis had hit on the right idea, however, BOL erased it recently when it announced that it, too, is "now offering its customers a fabulous 50% discount on selected U.K. High Street bestsellers."

Web interest in Western Europe has lagged behind that in the U.S., but the market in Europe for online bookselling is generally seen as promising-and less saturated than the American field. Still, sales of English-language titles outstrip sales of Dutch and French titles combined, and a Proxis spokesperson said she thought the pattern would continue.