Friday, January 13, 2012

Google e-Books, Agency Pricing, and Independent Book Stores

This post was inspired by this article from (“Resolved: Kick the Amazon Habit in 2012”) Much of the information from the article is also in the post, but you should read both.

This week I obtained a Nook. I also bought a brand new hardcover.

I will always buy and read physical books, but I could not overlook the convenience of e-books anymore. (Here is a plea: try to use the term “physical books” or “paper books” over “print books.” E-books still have “print.”)  And yet, I will not be taking advantage of one of the major conveniences of my Nook: wireless buying via Wi-Fi.

Rather than purchase e-books from Barnes & Noble, I will be purchasing Google e-books from my local independent bookseller, Politics and Prose. This requires using a computer to buy the e-book and then connecting the Nook to the computer (via USB) to download it. It’s a bit of a hassle, but it’s something I am willing to do for one simple reason.


“What?” you say in confusion.

Yup! Many, many e-books (those published by any of the six largest publishers in the U.S.) are the same price whether bought from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or via Google e-books through an independent bookstore.

It is called “agency pricing.” The publisher sets the price that the retailer must charge. Thus, the retailer acts as the “agent” of the publisher and is paid a flat commission on the sale. E-books from publishers other than the so-called "big six" are still sold on the “wholesale” model, where retailers can set their price. Still, I bet that many of the books you read are published by one of the "big six."

Amazon’s regular Kindles cannot display Google e-books, but the Kindle Fire can. Other reading options include: smartphones, iPads, the Sony e-Reader, and as previously mentioned, the Nook. If you are going to read an e-book on a Google Books supported device, why support a large corporation when you can buy through a local independent bookstore and keep some dollars in your local community?

In the case of Google e-books, the bookstore is getting a very TINY cut. They cannot survive unless people still buy physical books. Still, every bit counts.

I am a big support of independent bookstores. Over the last week I have had two 20-minute-plus conversations with the lead buyer at Politics and Prose. We’ve discussed what books to look out for in 2012 and our favorite books from 2011, among other things. That could never happen at Barnes and Noble. (Not to mention Amazon!) So, I encourage you to visit a local bookstore. Talk to the staff. They love to talk about books. And buy a physical book once in a while. But if you are mostly an e-book reader and you don't own a regular Kindle, please buy through a local bookstore that offers Google e-Books.

Incidentally, you can buy through the Google e-books website itself, but don’t do that. Give an independent books store the chance at receiving a cut, even if it’s tiny. If you don’t know of a store in your area that offers Google e-books (there probably is one), pick a store in another area of the country. The purchase is still instantaneous.

Two final thoughts:

1 – I said I “obtained” my Nook. I don’t consider it a purchase. Barnes & Noble is currently offering a free e-ink Nook with a one year digital subscription to the New York Times. (Or you can get the color version for $99.) I was totally on the fence about an e-reader. This was just the nudge I needed. If you don't have an e-reader yet, do what I did. Take the deal, and then resolve not to buy e-books from B&N. Even if you already own a Kindle that cannot display Google e-books (anything but the Kindle Fire), if you like the idea of having a digital subscription to the New York Times, I encourage you to make the switch!

2 – There are some pending legal cases regarding the whole notion of “agency pricing,” calling it a form of price fixing. The legal actions are only in the beginning stages and I am trying to research the issue before writing more. For now, if you’re interested, read this article from It does a good job of explaining the logic behind agency pricing and outlining the beginnings of lawsuit. (It’s from October and more has happened since then). It also outlines a legal precedent under which publishers might be able to prevail.

Stay tuned for more on this issue in the upcoming months.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you finally joined the 21st century! Enjoy your Nook. :-)