Google and Small Bookstores Forming an Alliance in E-Book Market

bookstore window photo

Photo via GypsyFae via Flickr CC

A giant like Google moving into the e-book market usually spells disaster for small stores. Independent outlets typically don't stand much of a chance when a huge company decides it wants in on the market. However, when it comes to e-books, the typical story might just be turned on its head -- small stores and Google could use one another as an ally when it comes to digital books, a rapidly growing segment of the book market. It's all coming down to an impending deal with the American Booksellers Association, the independent bookstore trade group, which will make Google Editions the primary source of e-books on the retail websites of hundreds of indie shops. According to the New York Times, indie shops have struggled to compete against Amazon, Apple, Sony and other giants that are staking out spots in the e-book market. But by working with Google, they can finally find a way to stay afloat in this new reading medium.

Google itself will have to struggle to find a foothold as well, so forming the alliance with the booksellers association is a smart move to help Google Editions as well. As we know from the many articles on Google's foray into books and copyright issues, it hasn't been easy for the company to earn its spot in the market. But, the association has over 1,400 member bookstores, so to become a primary seller of e-books on those sites is a smart move.

The NYT reports, "People who buy Google e-books will not be locked into any particular reading devices or book formats, the company said. Books bought from Apple's iBookstore, by contrast, can be read only on Apple devices... Google already has two million books that publishers have made available as part of its Partner Program, which allows Web users to sample lengthy previews of books on Google's site and other sites. A separate project to scan millions of out of print or hard-to-find library books has been tied up in litigation since 2005."

Apple is focusing energy on cornering the scholastic book market and magazine market for its iPad, and Amazon is wrapped up in how to pay authors in order to make its offerings for the Kindle the biggest and best out there. Meanwhile, Google is working this strategy of broadening its distribution network. And for small bookstores, that's an important ally for staying in business.

"Google would allow us to play completely outside the device-centric game," said Darin Sennett, the director of Web development at Powell's. "I don't see Google directly working to undermine or outsell their retail partners. I doubt they are going to be editorially recommending books and making choices about what people should read, which is what bookstores do. I wonder how naïve that is at this point. We'll have to see."

Right now, e-books is still a fledgling market. Everyone from the electronic manufacturers making reading devices, to publishers, to authors are all trying to work out how this new system of reading will function. In some ways it's an environmental boon since it means a potential reduction in the printing of paper books like text books and magazines, but on the other hand it is also a potential e-waste nightmare with wave after wave of new reading device coming out since manufacturers have no real grasp on what readers want and need quite yet. Deals like this will be a big help to the overall market, assisting readers interested in going the e-book route since they won't be nearly as limited in what books they can read on their device of choice and therefore keeping more devices in use longer, and keeping small stores running, which means bolstering local economies.

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