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by Bob Nelson
So this news comes to us this morning, that Kobo has signed an agreement with the American Bookseller's Association to make e-books and readers available through indie bookstores across the US. This would be a large change from the organization's use of Google currently for that service. According to WSJ, about 400 members of ABA currently use Google and would switch to Kobo.
What this means for Google
This has got to hurt their e-book retail effort. As a publisher, my ROI has been so small on our Google books/play/whatever they are calling it these days that we had considered trashing the availability altogether were it not for their relationship with indie booksellers. Between the hardware squeeze of the iPad, and the software squeeze and mindshare dominance of Amazon, Google has found it's low frills software access has won it few friends in the e-book market. Google ranks 6th currently for revenue this year for Brick Cave Books, accounting for less than 1% of the total ebook sales we have had this year.
Google needs to come to terms with the fact that hardcore book readers will only be dragged into the digital age by last resort, and giving them a clunky, non intuitive interface will do nothing to win them over. Book Lovers are loyal, committed people, and winning their mindshare is complex and requires a huge investment in the experience of the reader. The reading experience is as much about the book (or e-reader) and it's interface as it is about the book content. Google hasn't gotten, or refuses to listen to, that message.
What this means for Kobo
We at BCB are fans of Kobo, because of their underdog nature, and because of all the interactions we have had with various stores, interactions with Kobo have been the most personal and have really passed on the impression that "we're in this together". In contrast to Google, Kobo's store is clean, and inviting. Even with such a small US exposure up to this point, Kobo has accounted for 18% of our e-book sales in 2012, training only Amazon for share of BCBooks sold.
This is great news for Kobo, who will benefit from the exposure- not just for their name on all the indie bookstore websites, but their hardware in book stores across the country. For some time, Amazon, Apple and Barnes and Noble have offered their readers in 3rd party locations, and having this focused retail effort will only help get more readers in people's hands.
What this means for Indie Bookstores & the ABA
The ABA plugged Google into place in order to try and react to the growing trend of e-books and Amazon's rise to dominence. Overall, Kobo will be a great partner for the ABA, but the larger problem remains, when are local bookstores going to invest in their own e-book infrastructure and not rely on a 3rd party?
Crazy? Well, book stores today invest in their own infrastructure to sell physical books, they buy book shelves, pay utilities, buy advertising. What makes that any different from hiring a local programmer to create their own e-bookstores? With as many open source software solutions are are available now, the costs have never been better, and a well made local ebookstore with an effective submission process would probably become a regional or even national success.
I mean, if someone buys a Kobo e-book reader at a local bookstore, why do they ever need to interact with said bookstore ever again if they can get their books direct from Kobo?
What this means for Brick Cave Books
This is great for us, we continue to get access through the independent bookstore channel, and we get it with a more user friendly store. This is a win for us, and maybe we can decide if a continued investment in Google Books is worth the energy.
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