UK Booksellers diss the Google Book Settlement

The BA reaction is summarized on the Bookseller web site:

The trade body warned that the arrangement could create “a de facto monopoly” and “have a hugely damaging effect on the publishing and bookselling industry” if adopted in the UK.

One can hardly blame the BA, since booksellers would appear to be thoroughly disintermediated by the Google type of digital book platform (to declare an interest: the Exact Editions system is very similar in this). It is indeed hard to see why we will need high street bookshops if book distribution goes completely digital (hard to see why we will need Blockbusters or CD shops if film and music distribution goes completely digital). One does not see many typewriter shops these days. Sewing and knitting shops no longer carry as many printed patterns as they once did.

But will book distribution go completely digital? I wonder whether the bookselling outlook is really quite so gloomy. It is conceivable that traditional bookselling could continue in parallel with digital distribution. Several of our magazine publishers distribute what we call ‘combined subs’. The print subscriber also gets a digital subscription. One reason this works is that the products are really rather different. Print magazines cannot be digital magazines and vice versa. The customer who gets both editions is actually getting something more useful, not a mere duplication.

We think publishers and booksellers should try selling ‘combined’ book and digital offerings. Whenever you buy a book and register your ownership you would obtain access to a personal subscription. Or the mechanism could work the other way round, digital offers could be used to promote hard copy sales. Proof of purchase of a digital edition would entitle you to a discount on the book {at Borders, Waterstones and participating booksellers}. That could help the traditional bookshop to retain its traditional showcase role. If the combined book+digital offer catches hold perhaps the digital delivery of books will help bookshops to sell more books. The publishers however have the whip hand in this. Its unlikely that the booksellers could set this system up without a publisher lead.

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