With more consumers than ever using the Web to shop this holiday season, several publishers are experimenting with new approaches to selling directly to customers from their own sites.

One tactic adopted by several houses this holiday has been a limited free shipping offer for customers who buy from their sites. Simon & Schuster began offering free shipping in early November on orders of at least $50. Penguin and Harry N. Abrams will also pay standard shipping and handling for customers who spend at least $50. For customers who spend $100, HNA will throw in free gift wrapping (and this being Abrams, with lots of hefty books, any order over eight pounds will incur a $5 surcharge). Random House was limiting its holiday promotion to providing updates on which shipping option to choose to ensure a title arrives before Christmas.

HNA's shipping offer expires December 24; Penguin's offer ends December 31. S&S's free shipping option will likely run through the end of the month, along with a 15% discount on certain titles, said Kate Tentler, senior v-p, S&S Digital. Tentler said the point of the exercise was to "take the pulse of our customers and see what kind of offers make sense for Simonsays visitors." The twin offers have not resulted in a dramatic uptick in sales, Tentler acknowledged. With Amazon and other e-tailers offering deeper discounts and better shipping terms, publishers' sites "are still the sites of last resorts to buy a book," Tentler said. Most site visitors are looking for specific information about a book or an author, Tentler said, rather than searching for a book to buy. Still, Tentler was encouraged that 80% of traffic each day is new customers, helping Tentler to fulfill one of her mandates—acquire new names that S&S can market to.

Tentler said she may try a new promotion after the holidays, adding she was "not closing the door on discounts." While discounting is still largely in the testing phase at many houses, Oxford University Press is offering a holiday special: discounts up to 80% on certain titles bought from its site. All books bought on Harlequin's site are discounted 20% and purchases of $25 or more are shipped free. Harlequin spokesperson Katherine Orr said sales via the site are up 85%, and reported that eHarlequin logs 6.8 million page views per month.

Not all publishers were in the holiday mood. Scholastic's free shipping on purchases of $49 or more expired December 15, but the company's Seth Radwell said the company regularly does promotional events around holidays and at back-to-school time. He described the Scholastic online store as a specialty outlet designed to provide parents with resources to help their children learn. The store carries an array of products from books (from all publishers) to furniture. Kensington limited its holiday activities to adding a holiday banner. Kensington has been discounting its titles 30% for almost two years and sales, while small, have grown, and president Steve Zacharius is committed to selling online for a simple reason: "It's profitable."