I Want One-Click eBook Sampling
When Will eBook Prices Start Going Up?

The Rapidly Shifting Ebook Retailer Landscape

As I re-read this recent NY Times article about Google's possible role in the ebook retailer world I started thinking more about how the whole marketplace could shake out.  It's important to note that Google Editions is a program that's been talked about for a couple of years but still hasn't materialized.  The latest rumor is it will launch very soon...pretty much the same rumor that's been around the last couple of years!  Nevertheless, at some point I'm convinced Google will produce an ebook retailing platform and it's sure to have an impact on our industry.

Google Editions is said to be cloud-based and hardware agnostic.  Great so far.  After all, I often worried about being locked into Amazon's Kindle platform each time I bought another $9.99 book for it.  To Amazon's credit though, they're heading away from their original locked-in hardware model where you had to own a Kindle to enjoy a Kindle ebook.  Most of the books I read on my iPad now are from the Kindle store, so kudos to Amazon.

The NY Times article linked to above talks about how Google could change the game by cozying up to the independent booksellers.  Interesting idea.  I've always thought the independents should have banded together years ago to create an uber virtual bookstore chain, both online and as brick-and-mortars.  Think of it as a federation of indies.  Networked together they'd stand a much better chance of competing with Amazon, B&N and Borders, for example.

Here's one way this could work: You search for a print book on an indie's website.  They don't have it but the indie two down street does.  In this new federation of independents, Google ties everything together on the back end as it helps them refine their sites and search results to show that book is available down the street at indie #2.  Indie #1 gets a finders fee on the resulting transaction.  Again, everything is handled with a state-of-the-art Google back-end system.

Extend that same thinking to a combined online presence, all backed by Google to do things like provide the best local information (depending on the customer's IP address or what's being searched for).  In other words, take what's always made the indie stores so attractive (extensive local knowledge and specialization) and bring it online, not individually as they are today, but as one super-sized independent.  Think of it as all these stores banding together with Google to create a large Amazon-like presence but with an indie personality, one that changes on the fly from one region to another based on where you are and what you're looking for.  That sounds like a compelling model to me.

So what does the ebook retailing landscape look like for the next couple of years?  First of all, the Kindle will continue to take on more meaning as a bookstore rather than a hardware device.  In fact, as I predicted last November, I believe Amazon will completely abandon the Kindle hardware space by late 2012.  The only adjustment I'd like to make to that prediction is that the iPad (and the upcoming flood of Android-based tablets) will cause it to happen even sooner.

Next, Google will probably cozy up with indies but Amazon's Kindle apps will help it expand onto all platforms.  Google, however, will be more aggressive on the advertising front and (finally!) give book publishers the option of selling different versions of their products (regular-priced ones without ads and lower-priced ones with ads, for example).  For all you anti-book ad people, please remember that there will still be versions without ads; nobody will force you to buy books with ads!  For cheapskates like me who have no problem with ads everywhere else, we'll save a few bucks along the way.

Meanwhile, Apple has to decide whether to create their own iBooks apps for Windows and Android devices.  That's the only way they'll truly be competitive with Amazon and Google.  If they stick with apps just for Apple products they'll really stunt their growth for the future.  I'm thinking this won't happen though.  After all, can you imagine how hard it would be for Steve Jobs to green-light development of an iBooks app for an Android phone?!


Bill Seitz

In how many places are there 2 independent bookstores with overlapping (non-best-seller) inventory that are close to each other? My perception is that most independents are either
* in low-density areas, saving you a 20min drive to the nearest B&N, or
* specialty-focused (art, mystery, etc.).

And shouldn't Alibris (or Abebooks, before Amazon bought them) be the source of the indie-network?


Indiebound is the latest instantiation of an independent bookstore online cooperative: http://www.indiebound.org/ Prior to that there was the similar program BookSense.

book publishers

Indiebound is very important; it is one of the last (if the only) sites tying together all small stores across the US.

The comments to this entry are closed.