Google, independent book sellers team up

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SAN FRANCISCO --- Struggling neighborhood bookstores now have a new way to ring up sales, courtesy of a formidable new rival -- Google. But it might not be enough to help them stay open.

The Internet search leader opened its long-awaited electronic book store Monday, competing against Amazon.com Inc. and further accelerating the shift of book distribution from brick-and-mortar stores to the Web.

Google Inc.'s entry is giving independent retailers a way to keep up with the times.

Google is allowing merchants to sell its inventory of 3 million electronic books through their own sites and bring in more money as they scramble to adjust to the rising popularity of e-readers such as Amazon's Kindle and computer tablets such as Apple's iPad.

More than 100 book retailers in 36 states already have agreed to team up with Google.

"This will help give independent bookstores a more level playing field," predicted Michael Tucker, who owns four bookstores around San Francisco and is president of the American Booksellers Association, a trade group.

Teaming up with Google won't bring in enough revenue to keep many bookstores open as more people embrace e-readers, said Forrester Research media analyst James McQuivey.

Over the past decade, the number of independent stores operated by the association's membership has fallen from 3,000 to 1,700, the group said. McQuivey expects hundreds more to close during the next decade.

The upheaval will occur as sales of e-readers, tablets and electronic books steadily rise during the next five years.

Forrester expects U.S. e-book sales to total $2.8 billion in 2015, up from nearly $1 billion this year. The research firm projects that the number of e-readers and tablets in the U.S. will soar from more than 15 million this year to nearly 60 million in 2015.

Even larger book retailers are feeling the pressure to shake things up.

Activist investor William Ackman on Monday offered to finance a $963 million bid by Borders Group to buy rival Barnes & Noble Inc. Combined, the two retailers operate about 1,400 stores, many of which would presumably be closed if they were to merge.


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