Ebooks Sold at Independent Bookstores Garner Pitiful Profits

In News by Dennis Abrams

An ebook sold at an independent bookstore likely garners just a 50 cent profit through the ABA/Kobo deal.

An ebook sold at an independent bookstore likely garners just a 50 cent profit through the ABA/Kobo deal.

A survey of Colorado independent bookstores reveals ebooks sales are tiny and offer just a pittance of profit — often just 50 cents a book.

By Dennis Abrams

At The Denver Post, Jessica Ianetta looked at local independent bookstores who had jumped on the ebook bandwagon, but found the results have been far from encouraging.

Arsen Kashkasian, inventory manager at Boulder Bookstore told Ianetta, “It’s not even a drop in the bucket, really. Our sales are up for the year and they’re coming from physical books.”

Sales started in 2012 when the American Booksellers Association and Toronto-based Kobo Books reached an agreement that allowed member stores to sell e-books.

Interested customers can go to a member bookstore’s website to create an account, which allows them to buy Kobo e-books. (In June, the ABA and Kobo extended the three deal for one extra year via an automatic renewal clause.)

But, as Ianetta writes, “for Colorado independent bookstores, many of them part of the Kobo-ABA deal, e-books sales generate a collective shrug.”

“Three, four years ago there was a lot of panic in the book business that digital reading was going to take over and physical books were going to become a relic of some other time and place,” Oren Teicher, CEO of the ABA, told the Post. “It’s our view today, as it was then, that print and digital co-exist, they don’t compete with each other.”

At Boulder Books, which sells ebooks through Kobo and had been part of an earlier Google ebook deal, Kashkahian told Ianetta that neither deal was “any good.” The store has only around 10 customers who purchase ebooks on a regular basis, along with “a few other occasional downloads.”

“I don’t have exact numbers,” he said, “but let’s say we make $10 off each hardback copy of [Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman]. Ebooks make 50 cents.”

Denver’s Tattered Cover is also a part of the Kobo deal, and while marketing manager Heather Duncan admitted that those sales were only a “small, small piece” of their business, it was still worth offering ebooks “so customers have a digital option.”

And at Denver’s The Bookies, they decided to partner with Zola Books instead of joining the Kobo-ABA deal. And while that partnership did well during the testing stage, it has now “been inactive for more than six months,” according to the store’s floor manager, Larry Yoder.

“It’s all fallen apart,” Yoder said. “It just kind of fizzled out. My contacts were no longer working there and I just couldn’t establish a good contact.” Customers haven’t asked about e-books since, Yoder said.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.