How Google Books is Helping to Destroy My Used Book Business

I was browsing the Google website today and decided to check out the “More” tab at the top. It had a link simply saying “Books.” As an online used book seller I was naturally curious (was this a place where I might be able to list my inventory for sale?) and so I decided to check it out.

My heart sank as I saw what was revealed. This wasn’t a site for selling physical books. Oh, no. This was a place where people could research, buy, and even download free eBooks. According to the site you can “Search the latest index of the world’s books. Find millions of great books you can preview or read for free” and “Go to the Google eBookstore for over 3 million eBooks to read on the Web, Android, iPhone, iPad, Sony and Nook.”

3 million eBooks. Were they serious?

My own personal inventory of physical books for sale just reached 12,000. I’ll be fortunate if I ever reach 15,000 titles with the time and space resources I have available. There was no way I could ever possibly compete with 3 million eBooks. And it seemed every where I looked someone I knew was buying a new eReader of some kind: Kindle, iPad, Nook, etc. Why would anyone want a physical book if they could have all that knowledge stored and indexed on a single handy, searchable electronic device?

Now I know that there still are people out there that prefer the physical book over an electronic device (I’m one of them) but that number is steadily declining. More and more readers are being drawn to the simplicity of eBooks and the next generations growing up are becoming more and more accustomed to seeing and using them. I fear that the physical book will eventually become a vintage item, like the vinyl record, the 8-track and the cassette tape, and my pool of potential buyers will continue to shrink.

Now is any of this really specifically Google Books fault? No, not really. Google is just flowing with the changing times and providing people with an information product that they know their customers want. If they didn’t do it, some other company would have stepped up and filled the need. I can’t really fault them for that. But I know there will be causalities along the way in the used book business because of how easy Google is making it for people to purchase and access eBooks. The used book trade will suffer as a result. It is inevitable.

For example, while I was browsing the Google Books website I came across a free eBook titled “Harper’s Encyclopædia of United States History from 458 A.D. to 1902.” This was originally published in 1902 but was digitized by Google in November, 2007. Prior to the easy access to these Google eBooks a historian or scholar probably would have purchased this book from a used book seller like myself if they wanted to use it for research. Now they have the choice of bypassing the bookseller all together and just sitting down at their computer or picking up their iPad and reading it for free.

And there are literally of hundreds of thousands of such examples. Digitized versions of books that used to be only available through the used book market. Not just offered for sale as a download, but actually offered for FREE!

Thanks, Google Books, for helping to destroy my small business. I know it’s just business and nothing personal, but it certainly feels personal enough from where I’m sitting!

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