As of this morning, two of St. Louis's proudly independent bookstores have joined in the digital revolution: Subterranean Books in the Delmar Loop and Left Bank Books in the Central West End and downtown are now offering Google eBooks on their respective websites.
Both stores have been selling traditional books online for quite a while now, but now customers can buy and download e-books instantly and still feel the warm glow that comes from supporting a local business.
"We were selling e-books on our website already," says Left Bank co-owner Kris Kleindienst. "It shouldn't have been a big secret. But it was only for certain formats. Google is more far-reaching. There are more devices available and more titles."
Google eBooks are compatible with desktops, laptops, iPads, iPhones, Androids, Sony Readers, Barnes & Noble Nooks -- just about every e-reading device, actually, except the Amazon Kindle which, Kleindienst notes, has become pretty much synonymous with "e-reader", thanks to Amazon's aggressive marketing.
"Amazon did not invent the e-reader," Kleindienst says sternly. "People don't understand Kindle is Amazon. They think Kindle is the only e-reader brand. This levels the playing field. It helps people wanting to support locally-owned businesses. It gives them more options."
On a more practical level, e-books also give customers better access to popular titles, like Stacy Schiff's surprise bestseller Cleopatra: A Life, which booksellers are having trouble keeping in stock because the publisher didn't print enough copies. E-books are also cheaper than the dead-tree versions, and all titles in the public domain (that is, with no one to pay royalties to) are free.
As of about one p.m. today, no one had purchased a Google eBook from Left Bank, Kleindienst reports, but she adds that it's still early and Left Bank doesn't plan to advertise the new technology until the staff is sure it works properly. After her conversation with Daily RFT, Kleindienst was planning to download something to her Sony Reader.
"Something I haven't read," she muses. "Or maybe the new book by Michele Norris [The Grace of Silence: A Memoir]. I have it in hardcover, but it would be nice to have a backup, so when I'm stuck somewhere, I'll have the e-book version."
Here's an explanatory video from Google about how the eBookstore works:
And for more information about indie booksellers' beef with Amazon, check out Against Amazon, a Tumblr blog by Jeff Waxman, a bookseller at the Seminary Co-op in Chicago. "What Amazon eats, it kills; and what it sells, it devalues," Waxman writes. "Amazon can get you your product for less, but that's just about all they can do. They do it at the expense of the people who make books."
Update, 4:40 p.m.: Kelly von Plonski, owner of Subterranean Books, just got back to Daily RFT to explain how the whole system works.
Five major publishers -- Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon and Schuster and Wiley -- have agreed to sell their e-books via Google. (A sixth publisher, Penguin, is expected to finish negotiations within the next few days.) All Google eBooksellers will charge the same price for a book so none will be able to undercut the others.
"It's so some corporations who sell things other than books can't sell books at a loss," von Plonski explains. "Yeah, I mean Amazon. Google eBooks puts us on an equal footing so we can get a chance to compete. I'm very excited."
Another advantage Google eBooks has over other e-book services is that the books are stored in the Google "cloud", so if a reader happens to lose her reading device, she doesn't lose her entire library as well. Or just read books on multiple devices.
So far, Subterranean has yet to sell any Google eBooks. Von Plonski is unsure how many of her customers actually use e-readers, though she does note that her sister and a friend are both very enthusiastic. She herself has a Sony Reader. "I hate it!
"I tell my customers who are thinking of buying an e-reader should borrow one and read a book on it," she continues. "I'm curious to see if these e-readers turn into the fun toy that sits in a drawer, if there'll be a backlash against this fancy-pants technology."
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