Google e-books UK launch "imminent"

Google e-books UK launch "imminent"

Google is preparing an “imminent” UK launch of its e-books platform for selling digital titles, with members of Gardners Hive network able to sell the e-books from their websites.

The digital company held a closed meeting with more than 100 independents at the Booksellers Association’s Independent Booksellers Forum at the University of Warwick in Coventry on Sunday (25th September), which outlined how the system could work. Sources told The Bookseller the service would be launched within the next four weeks, with an announcement date at the Frankfurt book fair mooted.

Google refused to comment on any launch plans, but the service will allow independents to have access to selling e-books. An independent can add a Google e-bookstore to its website, or act as an affiliate, which means it would receive a commission for sending a customer to Google’s e-bookstore from their own website.

A third option was discussed by Gardners commercial director Bob Jackson at the conference on Monday. He said independents that have signed up to its Hive website will be able to sell Google e-books from their own page on hive.co.uk. It means an independent will have access to Google’s catalogue of e-books, as well as the 180,000 e-books Gardners stocks.

Speaking to The Bookseller, Jackson said: “E-books are just another format and booksellers are perfectly adept at selling books across diffferent formats. I want them to take the opportunity to sell in as many formats as possible.

“If booksellers don’t engage in e-books and they are unable to sell them, then those sales are going to go elsewhere. They should address and embrace e-books as a new format and do what they need to [in order] to promote them to their customers as well as the other book formats.”

Booksellers who attended the Google meeting described their reaction as mixed. One said the lack of discussion about what commission an independent would receive for selling Google e-books as “the elephant in the room”.

Sheila O’Reilly, owner of Dulwich Books in London, said: “I’m reasonably optimistic. Google has a huge resource of e-books and I think it’s going to give a decent chance for independents to sell e-books.”

She said one problem was Google e-books’ incompatibility with Amazon’s Kindle devices. “It’s the e-reader as far as the public is concerned, and that’s going to be quite a tall mountain to climb for Google to beat them.”

Another issue was the inability to have a Google e-bookstore up and running when Google makes the announcement. O’Reilly said: “It would be good to be ready to capitalise on the wave of publicity that Google is bound to get.”

However, Andrew Cant, co-owner of Simply Books in Cheshire, who also attended the meeting, was more sceptical. He said: “I don’t know why it is bothering. I’m not sure I understand why the customer does not go straight to Google rather than through an independent.”

Google launched e-books in the United States in December 2010. Any e-books purchased are stored in an online library. Readers can access their books across laptops, netbooks, tablets, smartphones and e-readers. Google Books launched in 2004, digitising more than 15 million books from more than 35,000 different publishers.