Google, I Hardly Knew You

Josie Leavitt - February 27, 2012

On Friday I received an email from Google. I was told that as of March 15 I would no longer be an affiliate of Google, thereby unable to sell e-books on my website. Needless to say, I was a little stunned. I had seen the letter in a PW article saying that Google was no longer accepting affiliates, but I had no idea there were going this far. Neither did the other independent bookstores that were also recipients of this letter.
I am a member of the American Booksellers Association, but I don’t have my website through them. I have a Booksite website. I had to apply to become an affiliate of Google to be able to sell e-books on my site. I applied several months ago and was approved within a day. From that moment on we began to educate our customers how they could buy e-books from us. This has been a slow process. And now, finally every day, someone asks how they can buy e-books on our website. Sales, admittedly, have been lackluster, but these things take time to grow.
Now it seems we are not going to be given the chance. Google’s reason for dropping is couched in these very vague sentences: “We are constantly evaluating our Google eBook affiliate program, searching for the best mechanisms to create value for our partners and users. With our most recent evaluation, we’ve decided to narrow the scope of the program to a smaller number of partners to create a better experience for our customers. ”
So, apparently, Google doesn’t view us as being capable of creating a better experience for their shoppers. I have not been told if I can work toward providing a better experience, nor do I know what that experience is. I am frustrated and pissed.
But being mad at something as big as Google seems pointless. However, at the suggestion of Kenny Brechner, owner of DDG Bookstore in Farmington, Maine, I wrote to the Google affiliate program and asked to be reinstated. I told them I was an independent bookstore and a member of the ABA whose e-book program was just starting to grow. I have not heard back.
I wrote to Oren Teicher, ABA CEO, to ask for the ABA’s help with this matter. My ability to sell e-books via Google should not be dependent on my having an ABA-sponsored website. I am a member of the ABA and I fully expect they will help me be able to sell e-books on my website. All members need to support of the ABA for help dealing with a giant like Google. After all, the ABA brokered the deal for the Google to allow Indie Commerce stores to be affiliates in the first place and to work with Google Books. I can happily report that Oren wrote me back late Saturday night and told me the ABA was aware of the situation and is working with Google to get the other displaced indies back to affiliate status. It’s awfully nice to have a trade association helping with this, as I do feel at a loss with Google’s size.
Google’s actions have soured me a little tiny bit on bookselling. Perhaps it’s the slowness of the season, but just when my e-books program seemed poised to make inroads with my customers, it might be taken away and I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. I’m sure Amazon has nothing to do with it, but I feel like it’s another thing that I can’t compete against. I don’t want to just roll over and give up selling e-books. Being able to sell them makes my store look current and vital. Customers who don’t have Kindles don’t need to look elsewhere for their e-books. Come March 15, ┬áI don’t want to tell them that they have to go somewhere else to buy products they clearly would rather buy from us.
As I continue to wait patiently for an email from Google letting me know that I’ve been reinstated, I face the conundrum of how to market the e-books I can sell at least through March 15. I’m not really sure how to handle this. This all does beg the larger question of why is Google Books the only way I can sell e-books? If the publishers produce them and I sell their books, why then can I not just sell their e-books without having to go through the very capricious Google?
I think the best thing I can do between now and March 15 is sell a phenomenal number of e-books so I can create the kind of experience Google seeks for its customers.

6 thoughts on “Google, I Hardly Knew You

  1. Jill Kemerer

    I didn’t realize even independent booksellers were feeling the squeeze with regards to selling ebooks. Thanks for this informative post. I have a feeling I’m going to be seeing many more of these, not just regarding Google, but Amazon too. Best wishes to you.

  2. Ann Stampler

    This is so disturbing. Words like “monopoly” spring to mind, and I find myself wondering (it’s the litigious Californian in me) if there are laws to prevent this kind of big-guy-bullying-small-businesses behavior. I wonder, also, if Authors’ Guild could become involved here. It’s had to imagine a writer who doesn’t want indies to be able to sell her books every possible form.

  3. Raelene

    Do you deal with Ingram/LSI to get print books? I was under the impression that bookstores can get ebooks via Ingram to sell on the bookstore’s website. I don’t know what the discount rate or other specifics are.

  4. Becky Hatley

    Have you looked into other eBook options? We sell our eBooks through an affiliate program with Baker & Taylor that uses Blio instead of Google Books. So far our customers have been happy. There aren’t as many titles available yet through it, but if Google continues to cut out independents we are going to have to find other options to stay marketable both online and in our brick-and-mortar storefronts.


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