The Bookseller and FutureBook report on a recent meeting of affiliates of the UK’s Booksellers Association at which representatives of three e-book companies—Kobo, Anobii, and Gardners—pitched their respective product frameworks. Unlike the American Booksellers Association (whose own IndieCommerce platform was mentioned in the letter I mentioned last night), the UK’s BA is soliciting multiple non-exclusive schemes for its members, who may choose to offer any or all of them in any combination.

Kobo’s affiliate scheme offers booksellers the chance to sell Kobo devices, and receive an affiliate’s cut of any e-books that Kobo owner buys from then on, even if he buys them from someone else’s Kobo e-book store. The problem is that once a customer buys his device, he’s locked into affiliation with whoever he bought it from—so if he bought it from chain bookstore W H Smith, Kobo’s main partner in the UK so far, that’s where the affiliate fee would go from any e-books the indie stores sold. (It’s not clear whether this affiliate fee was the only income indie e-book sellers would get from selling e-books, or whether they would also have some kind of agency cut similar to the current pricing structure in the US.)

Anobii would also offer an affiliate model, with the twist that the length of the affiliation could vary: booksellers could choose a shorter affiliation and take a higher cut of sales fees during that time (thus encouraging them to sell e-books faster) or a longer and lower cut. Anobii’s CEO, the bearish-on-DRMc Matteo Berlucchi, also predicted that most e-books would be DRM-free within “between 12-18 months” meaning people would be able to buy e-books from the indie stores no matter what device they owned.

Gardner’s “Hive” system will offer e-reader apps compatible with multiple device operating systems, including iOS and Android, as well as a £74.99 (US $116.23) GoBook e-reader (marked down 20-24% for Hive users). It currently only offers affiliated e-book sellers a 5% cut of sales, though the model is currently under review. It also includes a number of promotion and advertising offers, such as on advertising screens at regional airports.

Summing up. Tim Walker of Walker Books, who chaired the e-platform sessions at the a.g.m., said: “Kobo are established, they are owned by Japanese firm Rakuten, which is not short of cash. They have 2.5m titles and are offering an e-reader. But I’m not sure if they have tied down how the bookseller hand-sells e-books to the customer. Anobii has come up with what I think is the most simple way of hand-selling an e-book to a customer, by taking an email address, and it is supported by publishers. Gardners as we all know has always been supportive to independent booksellers and the idea they might have good terms made my ears prick up.”

Of course, as Philip Jones points out on FutureBook, none of these programs offers booksellers as much money from an e-book sale as they would make from selling a print book—meaning that the fate of booksellers when or if customers convert mostly or entirely to e-books is still up in the air. Booksellers seem to be counting on the e-book market’s growth slowing or stopping before that happens, but it isn’t clear whether that will really happen.


  1. Personally I don’t see this as a viable supportable business model other than in the very short term. It will also contribute to keeping eBook prices high and bleed earnings away from writers.
    I also find it an odd strategy for any bookstore to get involved in. Customers coming to bookstores are heading there for pBooks, not for eBooks. They can only lose customers by taking this path, while having no chance of winning extra customers.

  2. I’ve quite often seen book-lovers saying they wish their local bookshop allowed them to buy ebooks. They want to support their local bookshop, but they prefer to read ebooks most of the time.

    An (e.g.) Nook display with plugin-for-sample-books and QR codes to buy ebook versions of pbooks shown would definitely bring people into bookshops, and result in more sales. The bookshop-cafe setup (which worked well for Borders until its management starved it of trained personnel and stock) and a device-help area would definitely bring in people who are browsing shops, walking around or just want somewhere to sit down and read. 😉

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