Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Google eBooks Offer A New Opportunity

Yesterday's announcement about Google eBooks was rather interesting. As suggested about half a year ago, Google wasn't just going it alone, but have partnered with bricks and mortar bookstores to sell their product.

As mentioned on the ABA IndieBound website, "Indie bookstore customers no longer have to choose between reading digital and supporting their local bookstore" -- this is a significant shift in the previously existing world of digital books where customers didn't really have that choice.  For the most part, the larger players in the ebook movement have all been tied mostly to a single retailer and many of them are tied to a single device. Customers who wished to purchase ebooks pretty much had to abandon their friendly neighbourhood bookseller.

Google takes something Kobobooks.com has been doing beautifully (applying an open standard that allows users to read digitally on virtually any device they choose) and takes it to the next level: allowing customers to also decide where to purchase the books -- ie, implementing the local bookstore option.

This is a smart move on Google's part -- the recognition that there's a gigantic sales force out there willing to help customers find and purchase ebooks -- but, until now, without any way to really do it. This could be the first bold move towards the coming together of traditional bricks and mortar bookselling and bookselling in the cloud.

I think the most interesting thing about this movement, at least in my mind, is the open nature of this move.  Google Books are announced, and there's more than one way to get the books. Let's look at the Apple alternative. If you want to purchase an iBook, you need to do it through your iTunes account. Yes, you can read it on your iPad or your iPhone. But that's about it.

If you want to purchase a Google eBook, you can buy it directly from Google or you can buy it through the bookstore of your choice (assuming that bookstore is signed up to sell the eBooks) - no, I'm not familiar with the actual numbers the US booksellers are making off of each transaction, but I'm a believer that what they are getting now (actually being part of the transaction -- actually having the ability to merchandise and sell ebooks) is much better than they were getting before which is zero, zip, nadda, absolutely nothing.

After all, 0 times 40% is still 0.

Since I live in Canada, I can check out the basics of this new offering from Google, but I can't purchase anything. Nor can I download the app for my iPhone.  But I know, through direct contact with a project manager at Google that they are coming to Canada, want to work with Canadian Booksellers Association and that they are definitely interested in a similar partnership north of the 49th parallel. 

And I'm excited about the opportunity for booksellers to partner.  Here's an example of one of the booksellers, Green Apple Books and their website connection to Google eBooks. The search is nicely embedded within their website, so there's a seamless way to integrate the content. I think the next step is to punch it up and make it more dynamic and exciting.

Google eBooks are now almost just like physical books in that the options are open for customers to purchase them where they wish.  Ann Kingman has an interesting list of things booksellers can do to set their store apart from the plethora of other places people can buy ebooks. It's worth reading, then re-reading, then reading one more time.  I love her suggestions regarding loyalty programs and the merchandising opportunities that exist -- booksellers need to take full advantage of those opportunities.

And that drives home something important -- the focus needs to be on the customer experience. What is it that the customer is getting out of interacting with your bookstore?  What is it that keeps them coming back despite the endless options they have for buying physical books? Whatever that answer is, booksellers will need to offer the very same things, or as close to those very same things on the experience offered through their web portal for ebooks.

One of the things that comes to mind is this -- every single bricks and mortar bookseller who is partnered into this program should have an in-store terminal pointing to their Google eBook page -- allow customers who are physically in your store the option to make their purchase an eBook purchase.  Yes, they're coming in looking for expertise, looking for help in deciding what to read next.  Why not also offer them the opportunity to purchase the book format of their choice? Why not use the in store kiosk to help walk them through the experience?

Why let your dearest customers stumble through discovering eBooks on their own? The same way a bookseller nurtures the customer experience and curates the selection and cultivates a relationship, the same thing can be done in this new realm of ebooks.

A world of opportunity has been opened -- and I look forward to seeing how it all works out.

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