Google jumps ship; abandons ebook reseller program

The decision by Google to end the ebook reseller program has been met with much disappointment. Emily Powell, head of Powell’s books, one of the sixteen resellers, said it was ‘extremely disappointing.’

Perhaps it was too good to be true to start with;  Google, a large multinational, partnering with independent booksellers all over the world (including Dymocks in Australia) to deliver ebook content to consumers.

After all, it hadn’t been done before.  Amazon has clung rigidly to control of its kindle empire, Kobo has integrated with a select few ebook stores ( I can only think of Indigo and Borders) and Barnes and Noble have kept their NookBooks to themselves.  So was Google’s ebook reseller program destined to fail?

With the benefit of hindsight, we can probably see why it did.  In a post on the Google Books official blog, Google stated that the program hadn’t gained ‘enough traction’.  Did they really expect brick and mortar booksellers to suddenly invest thousands of dollars into publicising their online ebook stores? Further, did they believe consumers had good reason to shop from local booksellers?

“…the reseller program — has not gained the traction that we hoped it would, so we have made the difficult decision to discontinue it by the end of January next year.”

Google Books Blog

Many brick-and-mortar booksellers just didn’t have the capacity or skills to promote their storefronts online.  Some implementations of the Google ebook reseller program were very nice; but if you hadn’t come across the store in person before, it was difficult to find them online, or even know they existed.  For an online store, this is a bad sign, and possibly why Google stated it didn’t obtain the ‘traction’ they wanted.

Even if store managers did decide to pump thousands into their ebook online storefronts, however, what would be the incentive for consumers to choose these ebook sites as opposed to established sites such as Kobo, or even Google Books themselves?  After all, it’s easier to consolidate all your purchases at one site.  And it’s not like Kobo or Google are hard to use.

One answer, and a dubious answer at best, would be that they felt loyal to supporting the local bookshop.  But not many would fall into this category, certainly not enough to save the bookstore, or help it reap back its investment made into the online site.  Dymocks in Australia, however, has a very nice implementation of Google ebooks by placing it in their normal catalogue search. So has Powell’s books.

The Dymocks Google eBooks integration screenshot

Another answer is the ability to use locally bought gift cards. This isn’t possible for the Kobo site, for example, where you can only send eGift cards.  The share of customers who fall in this category, however, is not clear.

Competing in an online marketplace is not similar to that of a brick-and-mortar environment.  Customers can undertake price comparisons from other e-book online retailers with the click of the mouse.  They are also far less concerned about customer service; after all, there aren’t many glitches that could happen from downloading and opening an epub file.  Even with posted books, we have a little bit more cause for concern. But with epub files, the risk of something going wrong is quite small; any store would do the same thing; 1. offer a download link and 2.allow user to download.

Content is identical in each and every ebook, no matter which e-retailer you buy it from. There is a weak economic argument for supporting the local bookseller’s online site when we can make the purchase, possibly at a lower price, from a dedicated e-book retailer such as Kobo, where you can consolidate your purchases, and use a clean, fresh, easy to use transaction process.

When the reseller program ends in Jan 2013, the Google eBooks platform will thus be consolidated to Google’s own Google Play service.  This will place it in a position to compete against similar outlets, such as Amazon, Kobo and Barnes & Noble.

The Google Play Platform Screenshot

The future

It’s clear the ebook industry is going through some dramatic times.  Some have even raised the concern that if Google can’t partner with booksellers to deliver ebooks with much success, how can anyone else?

In the short term, at least, there are a few competing ebook wholesalers which independent booksellers can sign up to. And eReader owners are definitely not without content with many eBook download services such as Kobo, Book Depository, Google eBooks, Dymocks and many more.

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Screenshots and images used for evaluative purposes only.  Copyright retained by their original owners.

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Filed under Book News, National Year of Reading 2012

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