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Midweek Tech Scan: can Google help save Seattle's indie bookstores?

A new app makes it possible for you to buy ebooks from your local independent book sellers. The owner of the Seattle Mystery Bookshop offers his thoughts.

A display window at Seattle Mystery Bookshop urges support for local stores.

A display window at Seattle Mystery Bookshop urges support for local stores. Joe Copeland

Seattle Mystery Bookshop

Seattle Mystery Bookshop Joe Copeland

It’s a curious, almost ironic turn of events that Google, credited with being one of the major influences in the rise of ebooks and the steady erosion of printed books, may become a savior of the independent bookstore here in Seattle and around the country. 

Last week, the American Booksellers Association released the IndieBound Reader, an ebook reader app for Android phones and tablets, that allows book lovers to buy ebooks directly from independent booksellers.

The reader is based on Google’s own ereader technology, but allows readers to locate their favorite independent bookstore that sell Google ebooks, and buy from them directly through the app. 

It’s a little too early to tell its effect, however, according to J.B. Dickey, owner of the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, one of a handful of independent book dealers still keeping their heads above water in the Puget Sound area, “Certainly, people wanting to support small book sellers is all to the good,” he noted in a phone interview, “but not enough people are paying attention to the smaller book sellers. 

“We’re not able to pay the rent on ebooks.  It has to be on top of selling print books.”

The app is available for the iPhone, but it won’t allow in-app buying.  I loaded the app onto my iPhone, but the app didn’t link to the account I set up using my Google account.  I’ve not yet found a way to read the book I bought with the IndieBound Reader for my Android phone on my iPhone.

I downloaded the free app to my phone from the Android Market, keyed in a downtown ZIP code (98104) and found a list of independent stores — not a huge list as one might expect.  First up was the Seattle Mystery Bookshop at 117 Cherry St.  I clicked on the store’s name, signed in with my Google account as easily as I sign in for any other Google function.

I was a little surprised not to find a series of recommendations from the store on the app — apparently I would need to look at the store’s web site first.  Still, being able to browse Google's online ebook stacks under virtually any category gave me a depth and breadth of any good bookstore, and the profits from my book purchase went to a local bookstore instead to one of the Big Two.

Although I have both Amazon and Barnes & Noble accounts, and support them liberally, having a strong third book seller choice and supporting a local merchant, even in a small manner, does the heart good.

Dickey noted that buying books from local merchants, to some degree, is a political act.  Seattle has a reputation for being a good town for independent book sellers: a place where writers often come on book tours.  If you buy from an independent seller, he added, “You’re saying, what kind of system do you want to support for your money?”

Across the country, he continued, small and medium-sized retail book sellers have been driven out of business, with only a Barnes & Noble store to service their needs, or no store at all.  “Amazon has made it easy to buy on line,” he commented.

One of Amazon’s latest moves, the start of a print publishing house under its own name with an initial list of 122 titles for sale, is not winning any friends at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop.  Dickey recently heard that the books can be sold by any bookstore willing to stock them but his store will not be one of them. 

“Why should I support a company that is trying to drive me out of business?” he commented.

The digital age, sadly, has turned the bookstore “looky-loo” into a fine art. According to a piece in the New York Times, people go into bookstores, hand-pick over a variety of books that look interesting, then copy that information onto a smartphone and buy the book from an online merchant.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Dec 7, 1 p.m. Inappropriate

According to a piece in the New York Times, people go into bookstores, hand-pick over a variety of books that look interesting, then copy that information onto a smartphone and buy the book from an online merchant.

And now, Amazon will pay you $5 to do this.

http://gawker.com/5865612/amazon-launches-christmas-attack-on-local-shops
or http://s.coop/7pws for short

Posted Wed, Dec 7, 4:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Apparently it's 5% up to $5, and doesn't apply to books. It does apply to "qualifying products" in electronics, toys, sports, music, and DVD, however.

Posted Wed, Dec 7, 8:11 p.m. Inappropriate

With the advent of e-books, it's important to understand that very few independent booksellers will still exist in 15 years. Independent booksellers have already become obsolete; they don't offer the information or convenience or prices that online retailers do (not just Amazon but O.com and BN.com among others). The personal service that might have saved most independents was too late in coming.

Bookstores in general will persist only to cater to three markets. First, to the older generation who will not embrace e-books. This generation will die out soon. Second, to buyers of special hardback editions of special or important books meant to be displayed on a coffee table or on some nice shelves (this is the only kind of physical book that will continue to be published in the future). Last, used books will continue to be a vibrant market until print-on-demand technology makes it possible to get any out-of-print title easily; at that point, used books will die as well. (Authors and publishers prefer print-on-demand anyway because actual royalties get paid - used book sales do nothing to help the publishing industry.)

Scheduled to die along with independent bookstores: publishers. In the very near future, an author will self-publish an e-book and pay for editing out of pocket, maybe signing marketing agreements as well. This is no great loss since publishers haven't really been doing their jobs the past twenty years (the majority of what has been published in recent years is crap or direct-to-recycling).

It's difficult to envision what purpose an independent bookseller would actually serve once e-book readers reach a certain ownership level. We will soon reach that level.

smacgry

Posted Thu, Dec 8, 7:56 a.m. Inappropriate

here is agent andrew ross on the amazon app that can put local book stores ouf of business in no time!
http://andyrossagency.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/is-your-local-bookstore-an-amazon-showroom/

Today’s uproar de jour in book publishing is the news story that Amazon.com is giving a $5.00 discount on items that a customer scans using the Amazon “Price Check for iPhone App” in a brick and mortar store . The promotion is only good for 1 day and it doesn’t include books. But people in publishing , particularly booksellers, are understandably upset about this promotion and this app. I knew the app was in existence but I hadn’t checked it out. I tried it earlier today. I’ll give you a demonstration.

mikerol

Posted Thu, Dec 8, 9:37 a.m. Inappropriate

Smacgry, I don't doubt that e-books are the future, but I do think there's more of a place for p-books than you envision. Some say p-books : e-books :: vinyl : MP3s, but I see it this way: books have been with us for centuries. Recorded music has been with us for about a century. High-quality movies owned by consumers (i.e., DVDs) have been with us for a little over a decade. I think physical possession of media will go out in LIFO order. P-books may no longer be dominant by the time I pass away, but I think they will make up more of the market than most people think. There is still something to be said for owning something, not licensing it.

As for this — In the very near future, an author will self-publish an e-book and pay for editing out of pocket, maybe signing marketing agreements as well. — Yes. Self-publishing will become more and more common. But how many authors are likely to pay for editing? To be honest, I see them paying for marketing more than for editing. They may then wonder why their book is not selling very well.

Posted Wed, Dec 14, 8:57 a.m. Inappropriate

Fight back: browse books on Amazon or B&N;, then go to your local indie to buy it! I do it all the time.

msolga

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