As more and more customers come in asking me when I’ll start selling e-books, I find myself wondering what does that mean for me and my store. These are regular customers who have embraced the Shop Local ethos and want to support my bookstore while they buy books a new way. These are customers who have e-readers and also continue to buy books. But is their buying an e-book at my store ultimately going to help my business or hurt it? We all know that Amazon has done with e-books what they do with bestsellers: they deeply discount them, so deeply that few can compete with the prices.
However, this week with Random House’s announcement that they will sell e-books on the agency model, the playing field changes dramatically for the better. Honestly, I’m not sure yet what this actually means to me, just as I’m not sure what e-books will do to the indies. As an independent bookstore, I am struggling with where e-books need to fit in my store model. Google Books makes it easy to sell e-books if your store has an American Booksellers Association Indie Commerce website, but if you don’t have one, then it gets more complicated, as Google Books hasn’t rushed to embrace having affiliates.
Do I try to offer the very book format that might well be the end of the book as some doomsayers theorize? Or do I cede this market share to the places people have already been trained to go for them? This is the question of the year for many booksellers, and I grapple with this daily. It’s so hard to know what to do. I still offer books for sale on my website and there are still a myriad of places where people can buy books. How important will e-books be to my bottom line? I just don’t know and that is the question that worries me every day.
So, booksellers, readers, and other folks who enjoy this blog, please weigh in. What do you see as the future of e-books and independent bookstores? Can the two co-exist happily, or is the relationship already too fraught to succeed?