When Google Editions goes live, which still could be six months from now, the Web sites of booksellers who participate in ABA’s IndieCommerce will go live with it. But independents won’t be Google’s only partners, ABA could be selling e-books alongside Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble. Those were among the revelations at the New England Independent Bookseller Association fall conference held last week in Providence, R.I., in a session about how the partnership between ABA and Google Editions will work.
Former Harvard University Press sales director turned Google strategic partner development manager Chris Palma discussed what a Google Editions enabled IndieCommerce site will look like. He also displayed a potential mock up for San Francisco’s Books Inc. (booksinc.net), Google Book Search head Dan Clancy’s favorite bookstore. The site will contain tabs allowing customers to click on Books, Google e-Books, and Other e-Books. Under ABA’s upgrade of IndieCommerce to be completed by the end of the month, customers will also be able to search for e-books as part of the collapsed product search. Google Editions-enabled sites will use Google’s search-inside feature, introduced several years ago. And publishers will be able to bundle print books with e-books as part of the Google program.
With Google Editions, said Palma, “the role of publishers and booksellers as gatekeepers is going to become stronger. People are going to realize that free is not best.” He described Google’s role as a wholesaler like Ingram or Baker & Taylor. Under the agency model, Google will act as an agent on behalf of the publisher and prices will be fixed across the board. Still, the fact that Google will also be selling direct on its site gave some booksellers pause. As one commented, “it’s kind of like the fox watching the henhouse.” Palma praised booksellers for being able to curate, adding that what Google excels at is selling ads, $26 billion worth; it has not needed to sell e-books. Kenny Brechner, owner of Devaney Doak and Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, was not convinced: “You’re not good at bookselling yet. Over time you’ll be creating a curatorial model.”
ABA COO Len Vlahos, who attended the meeting with CEO Oren Teicher, acknowledged that the partnership with Google has some drawbacks. “ABA would be foolish, if we didn’t come into this with skepticism, too,” he said. “But Google’s DNA is wired to help people search. We don’t know who the other partners are. They could be Barnes & Noble or Wal-Mart. The alternative is we won’t be in the conversation. Truthfully these people came to us. We feel it’s absolutely imperative that we be there.”
In that spirit, ABA is talking to Baker & Taylor about Blio; the Sony negotiations are over. Vlahos’s believes that e-books will not be 100% of the book market. But even if they level out at 20% or 25%, it’s important for ABA to ensure that independent booksellers get their 10% share. “We ought to be focused on market share,” he said. “Our hope is you will be competitive.” Most booksellers agree and outside of the meeting expressed concerns about the possibility of missing Christmas.
For Palma, the smart phone provide a useful analogy to Google Editions. Google built the Android system then gave it away to cell phone providers. “If we let booksellers sell our books, we’re going to serve our users,” he said. “As much traffic as Google gets, it’s a drop in the bucket. We know that people are going to buy e-books everywhere.”