Ditch Google now: ABA president

How the news broke.

Australian Booksellers Association president Jon Page reckons Dymocks and Booktopia should immediately close their ebookstores and find a new partner after Google announced it would pull out of its deals with the pair from January 2013.

Page was not surprised by the development (read his blog post on it here).

“I always thought there were too many risks partnering with Google,” he said.

“If I were Dymocks or Booktopia I would shut down my eBook store ASAP and find an alternative quickly. ”

Google announced it was pulling the plug on its reseller program with booksellers just before Easter – shrewd timing that meant the mainstream media mostly ignored the news.

The program only launched in Australia five months ago.

Booksellers who had partnered with Google when they opened their ebookstore, including Dymocks and Booktopia in Australia, now face weeks or even months of uncertainty.

From the end of January next year, Google will move to selling ebooks through its Google Play interface only – though current retail partners could look to end the relationship and start afresh with a new supplier sooner.

According to the official announcement here, results to date demonstrated that “the reseller program has not met the needs of many readers or booksellers”.

I’m interpreting this as “no one much was buying Google eBooks via resellers” – and why would they, when they could always go direct to the Google eBooks site.

No matter how poor sales have been, the process will have been a worthwhile one for Google. The access it has had to Dymocks and Booktopia customers in terms of publicity and sales will have made sure of that.

Others agree. Here’s a quote from a comment on the Google announcement:

“Google eBooks was the only way the independent bookstore where I worked was able to jump into the digital book world, a necessary piece of the future of bookselling. It met the needs of all my customers who tried digital books for the first time and all my customers who wanted to support the little guy with every book purchase. Many of my customers got Google accounts so they could buy eBooks through our website. I feel betrayed, like Google strung us and the ABA along, using us as guinea pigs as they developed their eBook market presence.”

Here’s the official response I received to my email queries from Google Global Communications and Public Affairs Manager Kate Mason:

“Our ebooks reseller program has not been as successful as we’d hoped so we will be phasing it out next year. We want to give partners as much notice as possible so they have time to make adjustments. This change stems from that strategy and the feedback we’ve received from most ebook readers, publishers and resellers.”

Neither Dymocks nor Booktopia have responded to emails. Booktopia was still “proud to partner with Google to offer our Australian readers thousands of Google eBooks™ from a wide variety of international and local publishers” on its ebookstore homepage. Their only reference on Twitter was this:

@seandblogonaut: @booktopia are you still offering eBooks via google? hearing reports that you are not?
@booktopia: @SeandBlogonaut We are until next January.

Dymocks, too, is still spruiking the partnership on its website.

QBD The Bookshop and The Co-op Bookshop had both signed with Google ahead of the Google eBooks launch in Australia last November, but neither was yet selling ebooks by last week.

The other huge ebook news story of last week somewhat overshadowed the Google news (happily for Google). You can read it here. The US Justice Department and 15 states sued Apple Inc. and major book publishers last Wednesday, alleging a conspiracy that raised the price of electronic books.

Non-Stop News November: Part II

Gleebooks’s ebooks site.

Google has announced that it will power ebook offerings from national retail chains The Co-op Bookshop (which sells primarily academic and trade books on-campus) and QBD The Bookshop (a clearing house and discount specialist) soon (in addition to those of launch partners Dymocks and Booktopia, whose Google eBooks-fed sites went live three weeks ago).

Like Amazon, Google has an affiliate program whereby booksellers, publishers, web site operators and bloggers can sign up to take a commission on books sold when they refer their users to Google eBooks.

It sounds tempting to a blogger like me until you consider the fact that you’re sending your readers’ money offshore, rather than supporting a local business like Booku or your local bricks and mortar indie, an thus potentially encouraging the contraction of the market. One of the main reasons I still buy the odd printed book is to make sure my local indie, and its equivalents in various holiday destinations, stay in business.

Hopefully the indies are looking at options for offering a similar set-up to like-minded bloggers and publishers.

Speaking of indies, other adventurous bricks and mortar bookshops (in addition to those working with ReadCloud as mentioned in the previous post here) that will face the search engine results challenge from Google are those in partnership with another cloud-based ereading start-up, Melbourne’s Booki.sh.

Booki.sh, which is based on a web browser rather than downloadable file model, partnered with Victorian indie chain Readings to launch a pilot store in January this year. In November, they helped Sydney favourite Gleebooks, Tasmania’s Fullers, Queensland’s Mary Ryan’s (also in Byron Bay), Melbourne’s Books for Cooks and Brisbane’s community minded Avid Reader to enter the ebook market.

All of the indies battle existing giants The Book Depository and its new owner Amazon as well as Apple and Kobo (which powers Collins Booksellers’ ebook offerings here as well as the now Pearson-owned Borders/Angus & Robertson online store and the standalone Kobo online store).

Speaking of giants, Pearson is the parent company of Penguin Books, and speaking of a big month in the book industry, Canadian-founded Kobo was bought out (for $US315 million) a few weeks back by Japanese ecommerce company Rakuten in a move expected to encourage its growth.

On Kobo, did you know that like Dymocks, it has recently followed in Amazon’s footsteps and announced plans to publish books as well as being a seller of them?

Are you keeping up with the nation’s most recent book news? It’s exhausting, isn’t it?

I haven’t even gotten to the Federal Government’s Book Industry Strategy Group, which handed down its final report on November 9 (the same day as the ReadCloud/Pages & Pages event and the day after Google eBooks arrived in Australia), or the planned Australian Publishers Association/Bowker Titlepage-based ebook retail platform (the final piece in the ebook retail puzzle in this country).

My take on those in the next post, Part III, coming soon to uBookish. Read Part I here.

Non-Stop News November: Part I

Click on the image to see the Google advantage in action.
After more than two years of watching their local publishing colleagues get digital, tech giant international competitors eat into their market, and a handful of locals like Booku.com enter the fray, many of Australia’s top independent booksellers are finally, happily, in a position to provide their customers with ebooks … in time for Christmas, too.

It’s great news for the industry and for consumers. The more players there are in the market, the more seriously the publishers will have to be about meeting our demands, by which I mean providing us with the ebooks we want to read, at an appropriate price point, when we want to read them.

The more Australian retail players there are in the ebook market, the more virtual hand-selling of our own authors’ works there will be, and, one would hope as a result, the more Australian authors being published.

The opportunity that indie ebookstores bring to sell Australian – and in specific cases, hyper-local – books to a global market has to be a good for our literary scene too.

Serendipitous meetings with books we’re sure to love are just as much more likely in an online indie as a bricks and mortar in my view. See how long it takes you to find a book you’d like to buy when browsing in Apple’s iBookstore compared to Booku and you’ll see what I mean.

Speaking of multinationals, it intrigues me that while Google had been talking about launching its ebookstore in Australia for more than a year, it chose to go live the day before the first of several independent bricks and mortar Australian booksellers opened their own ebook arms last month.

The search engine behemoth announced the opening of its own ebookstore, and two others in which is partner (with Dymocks – which is separately soon to launch its own publishing arm, D Publishing – and Booktopia), on November 8, several days after the invitations for the November 9 opening of Mosman indie Pages & Pages’ launch (in partnership with Australian social reading tech start-up ReadCloud), had gone out. A coincidence? Perhaps.

Pages & Pages will be followed later this month (or not long after) by fellow ReadCloud partners including Better Read than Dead (of Newtown), Shearer’s (Leichhardt), Abbey’s (Sydney city) and indie chain Berkelouw. ReadCloud says it is working with some 200 bookstores.

Some will sell the previously mentioned Cumulus tablet.

All of them will face a great challenge from Google in that many of their customers will find them via a Google search. Will Google eBooks pop up in those same search results? A quick test suggests yes, it will, though not at the top of the page. Not yet, not on my terminal, anyway. That said, take a look at the image below and see where Google eBooks appears when you search for “eBooks Sydney”.

For more on Google’s plans in Australia and details of the latest Booki.sh-powered indie ebookstore launches, see Part II here.

Death of a Bookseller


I can’t tell you how many times we’ve buried the book in my lifetime. The fact is that we haven’t buried the book, and however all this works out, we’re still not going to be burying the book. People are still going to be reading books, and whether they’re going to be reading them on a Kindle or as a regular physical hardcover book or a paperback or on their phones or listening to audiobooks, what’s the difference? A writer is still sending his or her work to you, and you’re absorbing it, and that’s reading. – Super editor Robert Gottlieb in an interview on Slate.com

If you’ve been reading the book news lately, you will have heard the media, the Australian Booksellers Association and cultural figures large and small ream out the Minister for Small Business, Senator Nick Sherry, for predicting the death of the bookshop. Just to jog your memory, here is what Senator Sherry said:

I think in five years, other than a few specialist booksellers in capital cities, we will not see a bookstore, they will cease to exist.

We don’t need to put our thinking caps on for too long to realise that the Minister for Small business probably made a bit of a tit of himself when he made this proclamation – as a piece of political rhetoric it was clearly a misstep. But just how wrong is the senator, and how upset should we really be?

The pundits would have us believe that we should be furious. As Don Grover, chief executive of Dymocks, said on the ABC: ‘I think it’s bizarre that he’s made that assessment … People love curling up on a lounge with a book, the physical nature of the product. The smell of a book still rates as one of the most significant reasons why people buy books.’

This from Mr Grover’s exhaustive study on the book-buying public entitled, ‘Why We’d Rather Smell Books Than Read Them’.

I mean, seriously, people. If the most significant reason for buying books is the smell, then the book trade is in even bigger strife than Nick Sherry believes. Luckily for those of us who love books, it’s not the main reason people buy them – and even if it were it wouldn’t save bookstores. You see, it is entirely possible to buy nice smelling books from the internet. And that is the threat to bricks and mortar bookshops – the convenience and range offered by online shopping.

The book trade is in flux, and that means physical bookselling is under threat. There will certainly be casualties. Some of them will likely be booksellers. Some of the fallout is likely to happen within the next five years. Get over it.

Conflating the ‘book’ as cultural artefact and the ‘bookstore’ as cultural institution is not helpful. Nobody thinks bookstores aren’t a big part of how people have traditionally discovered, obtained and fallen in love with books. But the changes confronting physical booksellers are an economic and cultural reality. Just as the bulk of independent booksellers were swamped by giant book chain stores over the last two or three decades, so the chains will be eclipsed by online booksellers. However, online bookstores do not, for the most part, provide the same kind of curation and community that bricks and mortar stores do. If booksellers want to remain relevant, then these are issues that need to be confronted head on – not ignored because we have dared question the viability of an existing institution. Not mentioning that bookshops are closing does not mean we didn’t notice the going-out-of-business sales all over the country.

The times, they are a-changin’, but that doesn’t mean we should panic. We are more literate and books are more accessible than ever before. They’re about to get even more so. How we help people find the books they want to read is one of the main challenges facing the industry. So let’s stop the hysteria in response to any suggestion that things are going to change. They are, but booksellers clinging to traditional models will not help them to reinvent themselves.