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Google eBooks: Does it give independent bookstores a fighting chance?

Google eBooks is taking digital books to the next level – and that may be a good thing for small booksellers.

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With this, overnight, Google eBooks has become the largest e-book provider in the world in terms of offerings, reports Publishers Weekly “launching with nearly three million books available for purchase or download, including 'hundreds of thousands of e-books' available for purchase and over two million public domain titles available for free.”

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“We set out to make the information stored in the world’s books accessible and useful online,” Abraham Murray, product manager of Google Books in an official blog post. “Since then, we’ve digitized more than 15 million books from more than 35,000 publishers, more than 40 libraries, and more than 100 countries in more than 400 languages.”

About 220 ABA member stores are already selling Google eBooks through the ABA’s IndieCommerce website, and many more are expected to join, says Tucker. A list of participating ABA member stores that have opted in to sell Google eBooks online can be found here.

It’s not yet clear how Google will share eBook revenues with independent sellers. Most book sales involve a 70-30 split, with publishers getting 70 percent of revenues and sellers 30 percent. Google will take a percentage of that 30 percent share, says Tucker, though it’s not yet known how much. “It will be very reasonable,” he says.

Though small booksellers seem pleased with Google eBooks, publishers may not be – largely due to the two million public domain titles available for free.

“It's something the book industry is deeply worried about and consumers can celebrate,” writes the Monitor’s Money Editor Laurent Belsie. “The ability to download free books isn't new, but juxtaposed with Google's hundreds of thousands of e-books now for sale, it brings home the point that the price pressures on books point mostly downward.”

Regardless of how publishers greet Google eBooks, booksellers are eager to join the e- book fray, in part to compete with the likes of Amazon: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, is perhaps their operating principle.

“We’re not running against tide,” says Tucker. “If we can participate in any way, it’s a plus for us, it’s very good news.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor contributor.

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