December 7, 2010

"Like it or not, your website is just as important as your physical store…"


Google eBooks has arrived and the radical game-changing possibilities of the service are undeniable. American Booksellers Association bookstores now have the opportunity to sell eBooks directly from their websites, offering them a first opportunity to take advantage of the rapid increase in the eBook market and to fight back against the corporate juggernauts of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Apple. A surprisingly short list of bookstores have taken advantage of the Google eBooks opportunity–only two Brooklyn bookstores, and zero Manhattan stores are to be found on the list–which suggests it will take some time for bookstores to embrace the new, and imperfect, platform. But embrace they must, as eBooks sales are expected to represent an ever-increasing percentage of the books market. As Paul Constant has been writing all year at The Stranger‘s Slog blog:

Indie booksellers need to figure out ways to make their websites into destinations that are just as interesting, appealing, and welcoming as their physical stores.

This will take a lot of work. Brooklyn bookstores like WORD or Greenlight offer unique, knowledgeable, and intimate book-buying experiences at their physical stores. But their websites have a long way to go to replicate that experience online. It will require scrupulous design, creativity, and web-savviness for their websites, both now selling Google eBooks, to offer services of comparable value to their physical stores. And despite having the opportunity to sell eBooks, both Word and Greenlight currently offer them at higher rates than Google’s primary ebookstore. (Mahendra Singh‘s illustrated version of Lewis Carroll‘s The Hunting of the Snark is currently selling at $14.95 at WORD and $9.99 at the Google ebookstore.) A higher price point is fine… if the buyer feels they have had a higher, most sophisticated buying experience. While I appreciate the new tool that Google eBooks has given indie bookstores, I can imagine many other websites that would be better vehicles for recommending and selling good eBooks than the websites of the actual indie bookstores. Literary websites like HTMLGIANT, Thought Catalog, or  Ready, Steady, Book provide online services more analogous to those offered by quality indie bookstores. They offer attractive web “spaces,” provide thoughtful recommendations, and create avid followers online better than the indie bookstores, who are, not surprisingly, more attentive to actual physical books.

Currently, only ABA bookstores can take advantage of Google’s new service. But, as Chris Palma, manager of strategic partner development for Google Books announced in yesterday’s press release, “This is just the beginning for us.” Is it possible that someday, any website will be able to sell Google’s eBooks in much the same way that any website can become an Amazon affiliate? A completely open eBook selling marketplace might be the only true way to unclench Amazon’s stranglehold on the marketplace (wouldn’t you rather buy a book from your friend’s blog than from Amazon?) but it would also create even more competitors for indie bookstores. I hope that, during this exciting new period of eBook commerce, indie bookstores take advantage of their new opportunities (and monopolies) and seize their own destiny.

Dear WORD and Greenlight… in the spirit of Paul Constant’s challenge, I look forward to seeing (and shopping at) both of your websites by the end of 2012.