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I can’t bear to read another prediction about the Internet altering human consciousness. I can’t listen to another pooh-bah saying electronic commerce, via the Web, means a revolution in business. I can’t tolerate the sight of another entrepreneur enriched by the sale of stock in a company without profits, revenues-or even a product.

I’m tired of hearing how e-commerce will conquer all. How the Internet and the Web will transform existing industries. I can’t take it anymore. It’s time for me to stand up for that silent majority of sensible skeptics that I know is out there. It’s time to say what a lot of people are thinking privately but are too cowed to say in public.

Where is this nonsense coming from? Well, part of it is rooted in the American character. Americans like rooting for the underdog. They like it when champions get toppled.

This American ethos is wonderful, but it is also often wrong. If you liked the “Rocky” movie series, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but in real life the underdog usually loses.

My point is simple: The Web, if it triumphs, will largely reinforce existing business elites. E-commerce, regardless of the inroads it will make into traditional retailing and services, will sustain the advantages held by the leading corporations.

I am not saying “Web-World” is entirely a sham (although it’s certainly partly that). I’m saying the Web can serve Wal-Mart and Merrill Lynch as well as Amazon.com or the 100th online peddler of garden tools. And in that contest, the rich will get richer.

I think the Web stampede is heading toward a cliff. When the herd goes over the edge, the financial carnage and psychological shock will be worse than anything wrought by Y2K. While many companies are still scrambling to forge a Web strategy, many more companies should be scrambling to forge a strategy to save themselves from their Web strategy.

What’s driving the coming Web shakeout?

Let’s start with the central premise of the online revolutionaries: the claim that doing business over the Web is cheaper than selling through traditional bricks-and-mortar. Nope. To be sure, the Web does certain things well. Amazon.com’s order processing is terrific. Those little notes in your e-mail telling you the status of your order are helpful and endearing (until you decide to stop opening all e-mail from Amazon). But those books must still arrive the old-fashioned way. That’s expensive and time-consuming and usually offsets the cost savings of buying electronically.

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