Google to shake up E-book market

NY Times:

Independent bookstores were battered first by discount chains like Barnes & Noble, then by superefficient Web retailers like Amazon.com.

Now the electronic book age is dawning. With this latest challenge, these stores will soon have a new ally: the search giant Google.

Later this summer, Google plans to introduce its long-awaited push into electronic books, called Google Editions. The company has revealed little about the venture thus far, describing it generally as an effort to sell digital books that will be readable within a Web browser and accessible from any Internet-connected computing device.

Now one element of Google Editions is coming into sharper focus. Google is on the verge of completing a deal with the American Booksellers Association, the trade group for independent bookstores, to make Google Editions the primary source of e-books on the Web sites of hundreds of independent booksellers around the country, according to representatives of Google and the association.

The partnership could help beloved bookstores like Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore.; Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, Calif.; and St. Mark’s Bookshop in New York. To court the growing audience of people who prefer reading on screens rather than paper, these small stores have until now been forced to compete against the likes of Amazon, Apple and Sony.

The Google deal could give them a foothold in this fast-growing market and help them keep devoted customers from migrating elsewhere.

“Google has shown a real interest in our market,” said Len Vlahos, chief operating officer of the booksellers association, which has over 1,400 member bookstores. “For a lot of reasons, it’s a very good fit.”

Google will probably face an uphill battle in its effort to enter the already crowded e-books field. The company has little experience as a retailer. It also has far fewer consumer credit card numbers in its database than either Amazon or Apple, and its online payment system, Google Checkout, has not been widely adopted.

Nevertheless, Google is promoting its e-book plan as a fundamentally different and more “open” alternative to its rivals’ stores. Though it will act as a retailer and sell books from its own site, it will also behave like a wholesaler and allow independent bookstores and other partners to sell its e-books on their own sites.

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.

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I think Google will do well with this marketing strategy. One reason I have never bought an e-reader is I thought they were overpriced and a poor substitute for a computer. Amazon is now making their books available on computers and smart phones in anticipation of this competition.

While I am of a certain age, I am not too old to wait to buy books at second hand stores like Half Price Books. I do like the idea of books on digital media, just for the storage if nothing else. I also get review copies from time to time and it would be nice to get those in a digital format.

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