It feels like Google’s eBookstore has been around long enough to have ironed out its issues, but it was less than a year and a half ago that the new eBook app rolled out, with great promises of portability, seamlessness, and—most of all—choice. You could choose your reading device (so long as it wasn’t a Kindle), choose your format (scans or flowing text), and choose how you purchased your file. At the time of its launch Google had partnered up with a healthy list of independent booksellers, who in turn put a link to buy its eBooks on their websites. No, it wasn’t any great bargain. And no, it wasn’t any quicker than going through Google—the process could be kind of laborious at times, depending on the interface. But readers were able to vote with their clicks just a bit, and the idea of going through their favorite indies took some of the moral quandary out of buying from yet another e-marketing behemoth.
As of this past week, though, Google has announced that it’s pulling out of the independent bookstore reseller program it made such a happy noise about in 2010. Citing the fact that it “has not gained the traction that we hoped it would,” Google plans to discontinue partnerships with second-party resellers by January 2013, channeling all its eBook sales through its new Google Play platform.
You have to wonder how Google envisioned this affiliate program to begin with. Was it planned as a kind of loss leader that would pay off in good will within the bookselling sector? How exactly was it supposed to attract a general public rapidly becoming used to sidestepping bookstores altogether? And Google Play is not exactly a step up in sophistication. Over the past few years Google’s been flailing around with the apps; Buzz was a dog from the start, and for all its promises of being a Facebook killer, Plus is feeling a bit dead in the water as well. When I first saw the Play icon, I assumed it was something aimed at kids, or maybe Pink Floyd fans—probably not the first impression Google was aiming for.
Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, sent an email to members stating that the ABA intended to have new, better eBook options for independent bookstores in place by next January. He also noted,
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.
Presumably Google’s shuffle, then, didn’t catch the ABA with its bookseller pants down (you can read the whole letter here). I hope this is true, and that another vendor who’s truly interested in working small steps in. Google seems to want it both ways, but I’m guessing that if it wants to go head to head with Amazon and Apple, it’s going to have to work that much harder at not being evil.
In the meantime, Apple has antitrust troubles of its own this week, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is not content with dominating only one world at a time. This is starting to feel like a good old-fashioned monster movie… although Google had best remember that no one knows who King Ghidorah is anymore.