The New York Times reports that Google is now selling and offering free eBooks through their site, readable on smart phones and eReaders (although for now, only the free books can be read on Kindle–boy, that Amazon is determined to keep its grip on the market). They can team up with bookstores so that you can buy Google books through an actual brick-and-mortar store. So, if you’re loyal to the corner bookstore, you no longer have to “betray” them by buying eBooks through the online retailers.
To me, this signals a move toward a greater emphasis on guiding readers to the books they might like in order to distinguish yourself as a retailer. If I go into bookstore A and they carry a paltry number of books in my favorite genre, I’m unlikely to feel the desire to patronize them over any other bookstore or online retailer (especially if they don’t carry books I’ve written!). However, if I go into bookstore B and they carry a good selection of books in my favorite genre, host author appearances and discussion groups that appeal to me, and offer great recommendations that go beyond simple software generation of related titles (“If you bought Diary of a Wimpy Kid, you will love Diary of a Wimpy Kid II and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid trivia book”–gee, I coulda figured that out by myself!)–that’s where I’ll be buying my books. For now, Amazon.com and BN.com have the software that many readers rely on for recommendations, as well as helpful reviews from actual readers, while independent bookstores have the advantage of creating a sense of community, with handwritten “shelf talkers” that provide recommendations by employees (helpful if you happen to have similar tastes, not helpful if you don’t.
Of course, many of the books we buy are gifts for others. Now we have some choices. If I want to buy, say, the new Mark Twain autobiography and wrap it up to place under the Christmas tree for someone I love, I purchase it in a brick-and-mortar bookstore or order it to be shipped to me, or to my loved one (in wrapping paper if I pay extra). Or, I can “gift” it to them using their email address attached to their eReader device (a new service from Amazon.com for Kindle)–not nearly as much fun to receive but still, an option. What if I could wrap up a “look in your Kindle” or “look in your Nook!” card in a box and send the book to the person’s device? Again, all are options–but where do I buy the book if there’s no big price difference? (There probably wouldn’t be a price difference on eBooks). Where do my loyalties lie?
In the future, I think we’ll see improved recommendation software combined with personal recommendations offered through online or brick-and-mortar stores that create a sense of community for the people who love a certain type of book (Christian books, mystery novels, children’s books, New Age books, etc.). We love to support our community, however we define that community, and retailers can capitalize on this. If I can buy my favorite New Age/Spirituality books from one main retailer yet still use that retailer to access helpful guidance on buying y.a. and children’s books for the kids in my life, that would be my ideal.
It’ll be interesting to see how general bookstores, chain or independent, will find a better way to reach out to niche customers. “It’s politically correct to support us” just isn’t enough when it’s clear they won’t help you find books you’re likely to love–or make up for it by offering cheaper prices and better service than Amazon.com or BN.com.