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Google (s GOOG) is ending the program that allows independent booksellers to sell Google e-books through their websites. It is a big blow for small bookstores seeking to compete against Amazon (s AMZN) and Barnes & Noble (s BKS).
The full letter that the American Booksellers Association sent to members announcing the news is at the end of this post.
Over 350 independent bookstores who are members of the ABA sell Google e-books through their websites. As of January 31, 2013, that relationship will end, cutting off “numerous online retailers, including IndieCommerce, as well as Powell’s and other partners in the United States and around the world, including partners in Canada, the UK, France, and Australia.”
Publishers Marketplace broke the news.
In February, Google scaled back its e-book affiliates program. While that move angered some, it primarily affected individual users looking to make a bit of extra money from affiliate links. This move is much broader and effectively ends independent booksellers’ ability to sell e-books through their websites until they find a new partner.
ABA CEO Oren Teicher says the company “has been actively engaged in talking to many other potential industry partners, in case the need arose to replace or to supplement Google’s offering.”
And, he writes, “We are totally committed to providing IndieCommerce stores the means to continue to sell e-books, and, at minimum, we expect to move forward quickly with one or more partners who will better understand — and who will maintain closer ties to — your stores, and to the book industry in general.”
Google’s reasoning: “It’s clear that the reseller program has not met the needs of many readers or booksellers”
A post on the “Inside Google Books” blog, published at 11 AM ET after the ABA news broke, says the reseller program “has not gained the traction that we hoped it would.”
The company will now focus on selling e-books through Google Play, the rebranded Google eBookstore that launched in March and aims to be an iTunes-like competitor selling many different types of content. In an effort to ease the transition, Google says it will “work closely with our sixteen reseller partners as they transition in the coming months. Also, booksellers will still be highlighted in the ‘Buy this book’ section of Google Book Search, supported with our affiliate program and have access to free Books APIs.” It is unclear, though, whether any of those efforts will extend beyond January 31.
Google says “looking at the results to-date, it’s clear that the reseller program has not met the needs of many readers or booksellers.” That could be translated as “the sales weren’t what we expected.” Google’s share of the e-book market in the United States remains tiny.
The American Booksellers Association’s full letter to members
We were notified Tuesday afternoon by Google that they will be discontinuing the Google eBooks reseller program, worldwide, effective January 31, 2013. As you may be aware, the reseller program is Google’s program as an e-book wholesaler to numerous online retailers, including IndieCommerce, as well as Powell’s and other partners in the United States and around the world, including partners in Canada, the UK, France, and Australia. Google’s decision to discontinue the program is, therefore, far larger than just IndieCommerce and the users of our product. After January 31, 2013, Google will sell e-books through Google Play only.
To say the least, we are very disappointed in Google’s decision, but, we have every confidence that, long before Google’s reseller program is discontinued, ABA will be able to offer IndieCommerce users a new alternative e-book product, or choice of products, that will not only replace Google eBooks as it currently works on IndieCommerce sites but that will be in many ways a better product.
From the start, we have recognized certain realities of our working with Google. As an enormous, multinational corporation, Google has interests far beyond independent bookstores, and the book world at large, and, at times, it has lacked understanding of many basic principles of our industry. Also, recognizing that it is never advantageous to rely too solely on only one vendor, throughout the time of our relationship with Google, ABA has been actively engaged in talking to many other potential industry partners, in case the need arose to replace or to supplement Google’s offering.
As you recall, we partnered with Google in 2010 because it was the only viable means for us to enter the e-book market, but, like so much else in our industry, things have changed rapidly, and we have options that simply did not exist 18 months ago. While we know that our volume of e-book sales has been modest, we also know that being able to offer e-books to your customers is an indispensable feature of any bookstore’s web offerings, and this capacity has helped drive online traffic that has contributed to increased overall sales. Moreover, we’ve all learned a lot about selling e-books in the last year and a half, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to build an improved product.
We are totally committed to providing IndieCommerce stores the means to continue to sell e-books, and, at minimum, we expect to move forward quickly with one or more partners who will better understand — and who will maintain closer ties to — your stores, and to the book industry in general.
We recognize that this is a significant development, and I want to underscore that, in this transition period, Google eBooks will continue to be available via your websites. We also have every reason to believe that e-books purchased from your store will persist in your customers’ Google Accounts after the reseller program ends. We will share additional details as we learn them.
I know that change can be disconcerting and disruptive, but with input from the ABA Board, our Digital Task Force, and our Indie Commerce Advisory Council, we will get through this, and, in the end, I am confident that we will be able to offer a better and more robust e-book product.
If you have any questions, please, don’t hesitate to contact me or Matt Supko, ABA’s Technology Director at [redacted].
Oren J. Teicher
Chief Executive Officer
American Booksellers Association