Publishing Perspectives reports that a delegation of UK indie booksellers has returned from the American Bookseller’s Association’s Winter Institute in Washington DC with a complete attitude change toward e-books. Whereas before they had been strongly opposed to e-books, now they are beginning to see opportunities in the partnership Google Editions is forging with American indie bookstores.

Jane Streeter, President of the Bookseller’s Association, notes that wholesalers could have an important part the process by providing the “back office” functions of managing the actual downloading process and helping retailers improve often-obsolete websites. When Google Editions launches in the UK, it could be the indie bookstores’ salvation.

[Indie bookseller Patrick] Neale, who is a former Waterstone’s manager like so many UK independents, said he had been “wowed” by what the ABA has done with Google and will now be lobbying the BA for it to do the same. “Thanks to the agency model, price is less significant -– so why shouldn’t you buy an e-book from your local indie? It’s opened the door for us and we’re very excited. I’ve now banned anyone who works in the shop from saying “I prefer print. It’s more a case of there being a good time for each format.”

A few UK indie booksellers are more skeptical, however, pointing out problems posed by the market domination of major players like Amazon, and an expectation that e-books will only end up being a minor proportion of the overall book market. Others point out the odd irony inherent in the fact that agency pricing seems to be the old Net Book Agreement by another name—and that the very same print publishers who clamored for the NBA to be thrown out are the ones who’ve enacted it on e-book pricing.

I’m certainly in favor of anything that can save more bookstores, but I have to wonder whether the Google-style wholesaler/retailer arrangement will be the life preserver these stores are expecting—or just another straw at which to grasp.


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