Google to drop e-book partners, including Powell's

Portland store was in Web giant’s reseller program

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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Google on Thursday informed Powell’s Bookstore in Portland and other independent bookstores that it will intends to eliminate a program of selling its electronic books through private booksellers, saying the program “has not gained the traction that we hoped it would.”

The program will be eliminated by the end of January 2013, said Scott Dougall, director of product management and digital publishing, in a blog post. He said Google Books has 16 business partners in what it calls its reseller program.

Google’s decision drew a harsh reaction from Emily Powell, president of Powell’s Books in Portland.

“The news from Google is extremely disappointing,” Powell said in a written statement. “Our decision three years ago to partner with Google and provide Google eBooks was an important move for Powell’s, to solidify our place in the highly competitive e-book industry. We believed in good faith that we would be partners with Google far into the future, and we invested in that portion of our business accordingly.”

In an interview, Powell didn’t offer numbers of the share of e-books it sells through Google, or the percentage of its book sales that are in digital format. She described sales of Google eBooks as “substantial,” but said Powell’s will find another source of e-books to fill the gap.

“It’s a very marketable product,” she said.

Part of her disappointment, Powell said, is that she had felt Google wanted the partnerships to support independent booksellers who are struggling to survive as consumers shift to digital readers.

“There was this feeling across the industry of everyone working together for stronger partnerships,” she said. In hindsight, she said, “for Google, one could predict that there were other paths they could take.”

Speculation in the blogosphere Thursday was that Google would focus on building its own digital bookstore in direct competition with Amazon.com on its recently opened Google Play store.

Powell said her bookstore has stabilized financially after a difficult period that required some staff layoffs. But bookstores are no longer able to create three to five-year strategic business plans, she said.

“Three to five weeks is more the mode these days,” she said. “That’s the universe we’re living in.”

In his statement, Google executive Dougall said his company would work closely with its reseller partners during a transition period and would highlight the booksellers in the “Buy this book” section of Google Book search.