Indie Booksellers on Google eBooks: We’re Now in the Digital Game [5]

On December 6, the American Booksellers announced that member stores with IndieCommerce websites could sell Google eBooks™ online [7]. The news came amid a flood of media coverage on the launch of Google eBooks from the New York Times, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and outlets across the country that Google was entering, and leveling, the digital playing field. To date, nearly 200 ABA member bookstores [8] have signed up to sell Google eBooks.

At Brooklyn, New York’s Greenlight Bookstore [9], “we’re totally excited about Google eBooks,” said co-owner Jessica Stockton Bagnulo. “Reading digitally is clearly something a lot of booklovers want to do, and while it was nice to be able to say we had e-books for sale on our website before, the actual experience of buying and using them had been a little clunky and unwieldy. To have a company as savvy as Google create a way for us to sell and read e-books in a much more streamlined way is absolutely wonderful. This feels like we’re really on the digital playing field now.”

A Google eBook is a form of cloud-based digital book that allows readers to access their libraries on almost any device from one single repository, regardless of where the e-book is purchased. Because Google eBooks work with myriad devices – tablets, smartphones, computers, even most e-ink devices – consumers are free to shop from a variety of retailers rather than being bound to one retailer. This opens up a wealth of indie recommendations and bestsellers to avid e-book readers.

Stockton Bagnulo considers the publicity of the Google eBooks partnership a big plus. Greenlight is now able to position itself as a 21st century bookstore that can offer “a competitive option for e-books as well as the real-world experience of curation and customer service that we always have,” she said.

Partnering with a global company like Google can only help her business, she added. “I think the ubiquity of Google, combined with the loyalty our customers already have to the store, will make it very likely a lot of customers will actually buy Google eBooks through Greenlight. I know some of our customers love the store and feel guilty when they buy e-books – now they can have both!”

Matt Norcross of McLean and Eakin Booksellers [10] in Petoskey, Michigan, said that being able to sell e-books quickly and easily was integral to competing in the digital marketplace. “Partnering with Google signals to customers that the e-books they buy through us will be first-rate in both content and function,” he said. Norcross created an entertaining video [11] to make his point.

Although he believes that many customers who shop indies “still prefer physical books,” Norcross is happy to be able to serve customers who want e-books exclusively or in addition to print editions. “As these customers have an enjoyable shopping experience on our website, I expect this number to grow,” he said. “As always, word-of-mouth will be how we, indies, will best establish our customer base.”

Now that Google eBooks is in place, educating store staff is his first priority (in addition to promoting holiday sales), Norcross said. “We also plan to use tools like social media and our e-mail newsletter to highlight great new reads. In many ways our promotions will not differ dramatically for what we would do for physical books.”

Google eBooks' availability on IndieCommerce sites is a “very important development for indie bookstores,” said Bookshop Santa Cruz [12] owner Casey Coonerty Protti. ”We are now in the game, and for many, many titles, we are playing on a level playing field in terms of pricing and accessibility.”

The e-book program will give customers more options and shift the way indies are viewed, said Coonerty Protti. “I think it will help with the perception that indie bookstores are antiquated. We are embracing new technologies and making them available to our customers.”

Connerty Protti appreciates that Google eBooks live in the cloud and are available from almost any device. “I downloaded a Google e-book on my iPhone yesterday and then used my father’s iPad this morning and had my book right there. That is definitely a competitive advantage.”

Based on customer feedback, Bookshop Santa Cruz has already tinkered with pricing on the Indie Bestseller list and other titles. “We also changed the prices for other books to be more competitive, but it will take some time to change all of them, so we might have some pricing questions from customers along the way,” Coonerty Protti said. “We had a number of customers respond to our Facebook post with a ‘like’ status so there are some positive feelings out there.” (See this week’s related story on e-book pricing. [13])

Bookshop Santa Cruz is promoting Google eBooks on its Facebook page and website. “We plan to have an in-store display using ABA’s book bands to bring attention to the fact that we can sell e-books,” said Coonerty Protti. In addition, the store will be promoting sales via a postcard set to land the day after Christmas, and plans are in the works for an “E-book/E-reader Petting Zoo,” in January, so staff can introduce “customers to devices and show them how to buy e-books” from Bookshop Santa Cruz.

Materials to help ABA members market Google eBooks, including DIY belly bands, an FAQ for customers, Google eBooks training materials, press release templates, and more, are available at the new website [14]. (An IndieCommerce log-in is necessary for access.)

For Kepler’s Books [15] in Menlo Park, California, Google eBooks are “the critical next step,” said Clark Kepler. “We are at and have seen one quarter of our customers migrate to e-books. is our fastest growing division, and we need to drive tens of thousands of Peninsulans to buy from our site.”

Since Monday’s launch of Google eBooks on the Kepler’s site, the store has heard loud and clear from customers who welcomed having the choice of purchasing from their favorite indie. Kepler shared a few of the comments:

“Finally. Thank God.  There’s a way for us to patronize you and other independents to buy e-books. I am delighted!”

“How do you benefit from selling e-books?   Does Google pay you a fee?  Just want to be sure you get something out of it and know that I’m supporting bookstores I want to support!” 

“This is awesome news! I will definitely check it out!”

“This is great. I have always struggled with the convenience of eBook readers and my desire to support local independent bookstores. Look forward to purchasing e-books from Kepler’s.”

To promote e-book sales, Kepler’s plans to discount non-agency titles and will explore the possibility of using co-op for ads.

Richard Howorth at Square Books [16] in Oxford, Mississippi, told BTW that he is thrilled to “finally have a functional service that enables our customers who want e-books to order them from us.”

He believes that it will attract tech-savvy customers who want to buy local and independent. “Many people want to purchase e-books at competitive prices and service levels, and this enables our customers who want to buy e-books and support their favorite independent at the same time to do exactly that,” Howorth said.

Jennifer de la Fuente at The Book Works [17] in Del Mar, California, agrees with Howorth. “We’re happy to be able to tell our loyal customers who want to buy e-books that now they are able to do so and support us at the same time. It’s a win all around,” she said.

Book Works’ first Google eBooks customer reported that the process was quick and easy on her iPad, de la Fuente added.

“We’re optimistic that the program will help us, but we’re not sure exactly what that help will translate to in real numbers. Time will tell.”

At San Francisco’s Green Apple Books [18], staff was excited to able to “sell more books, mostly,” said Pete Mulvihill. “While we wish all publishers were on the agency plan, at least most of them allow us to compete nationally to retain our customers. Our expectations are modest, but our excitement is grand.”

Mulvihill considers it “a great leap forward,” but he also acknowledged that Green Apple will “never be on the footing of our national competitors.” So he’s doing what the store has always done: “Adding value where we can, curating titles, and bragging where we can compete on price and convenience.”

A few customers tweeted and called Mulvihill to talk e-books, with interesting results. “One woman picked my brain for 10 minutes, then admitted that she had just bought both a Kindle and a Nook to decide which she preferred. Knowing that she could support Green Apple and other indies via the Nook, she’s returning her Kindle. One down, a few million to go,” he said.

Green Apple wants customers to know the store is able sell Google eBooks, even if some customers won’t immediately buy one. “We have plans to use belly bands on display books, adapt IndieCommerce’s Google eBooks bookmarks, maybe even hang a big old banner in front of the store,” said Mulvihill. “For now, we’re not trying to sell e-books so much as make sure that our customers (who may be getting devices this holiday season) know we’re in the game. We’ll use the social networking machine, too. Maybe come up with a funny video.”

Mulvihill added, “We’re grateful that ABA got us back into the game. While the hurdles to gaining market share are still big, at least we have a chance now.”

IndieCommerce stores that have not returned the contract sent via e-mail in mid-November are encouraged to do so as soon as possible, so they can begin selling Google eBooks. Signed contracts can be faxed to (914) 591-2720, or they can be scanned and then be e-mailed to [19]. All stores must sign and return the contract and the ACH Authorization Letter no later than January 31, 2011.