Late last year, as Google launched its eBook store, it announced a partnership with the American Booksellers Association, in which consumers could purchase eBooks from Google not just directly, but through the websites of participating independent bookstores, who would receive a commission. We had a couple of questions for Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, of Greenlight“>Greenlight Bookstore, about how the Fort Greene indie bookseller’s partnership with Google is working so far, and what it might mean in the future.
Have customers started to buy Google e-books through Greenlight’s website yet? In great or modest numbers?
Customers have indeed started buying Google ebooks through the Greenlight website—it’s fun to watch it happen! At this point, barely two months after the launch of the Google ebooks project (and only three months after our store’s ecommerce website went up), it’s really just a trickle. But I’m also seeing customers who buy one ebook, then come back and buy half a dozen more—which indicates to me that as people get comfortable with how the buying process and the platform works, we’ll definitely see an increase. The impetus is on us now to continue to publicize the availability of ebooks and educate our customers about how they work, in order to increase the number of customers who think of us as a good option for ebooks.
I also wonder if you have any thoughts on what Google gets out of this partnership, when they could just sell directly to the customer. Greater access to your customers? The opportunity to build brand loyalty from the kind of conscientious readers who patronize your local bookstore?
The scale that Google operates on is so far removed from my experience that I can barely begin to imagine their business strategies! But my thought is that perhaps they’ve adopted a philosophy of diversification, rather than a philosophy of consolidation (as, for example, Amazon has with the DRM-ed up, single-channel Kindle). In addition to the ABA, Google has partnered with multiple other channels for the sale of ebooks, which means readers have many different ways of encountering what Google has to offer. It also means that independent bookstores remain a viable channel for the sale of books AND ebooks—which means a more diverse marketplace in the long run. If this is indeed their thinking, it’s a variation on the kind of collaborative “enlightened self-interest” we practice in working with other independent bookstores and other local businesses—and I think it makes for a healthy, sustainable long-term economy for books.
How does the store’s profit off ebook sales compare to the margins for actual books?
The margin varies wildly from publisher to publisher and from book to book. The way I see it though, all of it is essentially free money for us—because we don’t have to invest in the book inventory up front! Every ebook sale, even if we see only pennies from it, is a sale we didn’t have to devote shelf space or inventory dollars to—so for us it’s a net win. It’s probably never going to be the core of what we do—that will continue to be our curated in-store inventory, and the community space we offer for human-scale connection over literature. But in the sense that it offers us an additional revenue stream, a seat at the digital table, and a chance to offer our loyal customers more of what they want—that is, books in any and all formats—it’s a great opportunity for us, and for all independent stores.