October 7, 2010

Here I am to save the day! Google Editions still lost in promise.


Earlier this week a Publishers Weekly report said that Google has yet again set a timeline for the launch of Google Editions. Well, sort of. Not really. According to the report Google Editions is powering forward and should be released to an e-book reader near you, “which still could be six months from now.”

Six of one, half dozen of the other — don’t sweat the clock, Google. We’ll be here when you’re ready. It is important to note that the eventual arrival of Google Editions has never really been the question. As we reported a week or so ago the real issue at hand is whether or not Google has encountered some critical errors in its cataloging and metadata procedures. Errors that would render it little better than one of those 1,000 Ebooks on One CD things that dubiously invade eBay listings.

Still, here’s Google’s rosy spin:

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.

Looking at the first sentence (and pushing aside questions of how) one has to wonder if that isn’t some sort of internal mantra at Google Editions leaking out via Freudian slip. The same way a clumsy mover might repeat over and over again, “Don’t drop the vase! don’t drop the vase!” It seems like Google is trying to say that their format will be official and rigorous in its editing despite reports to the contrary (see above link to our story).

The last sentence in the above paragraph kind of reminds me of stories about Walmart sending people out to help neighborhood shops they were destined to crush by their mere arrival in town. These are not the times of cynics however, and so the ABA is going to honor Google’s good intentions.

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.”

So what did we learn? That Google is working on an e-bookstore called Google Editions and it should come out sometime in the future. Not to forget that it is going to be a godsend to indie stores looking to sell e-books and that it is perennially stuck in this limbo of promise and proposed arrival just a season or so away.

It’s all kind of like those “Free Beer Tomorrow” signs some bar owners find so clever.

Still, with Baker & Taylor pushing forward with their Blio e-reader and a thaw evident with Amazon’s handling of their Kindle e-book policies, maybe Google will have to press a little harder and live up to their tall talk about being the indies’ savior.

Or at least temporary bedfellow.

Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.