Barnes & Noble Reads Tea Leaves, Goes With Google

Google yesterday added Barnes & Noble to its Google Shopping Express lineup of retailers that already includes bricks-and-mortar legacies such as Walgreens, Staples, Toys “R” Us and Costco. The move allows consumers in three tony neighborhoods to, say, purchase the latest Preston & Childs' thriller on the Barnes & Noble website this morning and have it delivered in time to pack for the beach house in the Hamptons or Malibu. 

“The program may help the New York-based bookseller better compete with Amazon, which has captured customers with its expedited delivery, vast online offerings and Kindle tablets,” writes Lauren Coleman-Lochner in Bloomberg Businessweek. “The e-commerce giant earlier this week said it’s rolling out one-day shipping on some products to six additional cities on top of the four it already serves.” 

Amazon Same-Day Delivery is now available in Baltimore, Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C.

“We're excited that people in the San Francisco Bay Area, West L.A. and Manhattan will be able to use Google Shopping Express to get same-day deliveries from Barnes & Noble, joining our existing retail partners like Target, Costco and Staples,” Google emailed the Los Angeles Times’ Salvador Rodriguez.

Meanwhile, a full-page ad written and spearheaded by Douglas Preston attacks Amazon for putting writers in the middle of its ongoing dispute with Hachette Publishing over royalties and pricing. It has been signed by more than 900 other authors including James Patterson, John Grisham and Stephen King, reports the Times’ David Streitfeld. With the price of the $104,000 insertion order covered by some of the more successful authors, it will run in the New York Times this Sunday.

It “comes at a vulnerable moment for the Internet giant, which is rapidly transforming itself into an empire that not only sells culture but creates it, too,” Streitfeld writes. 

In response to a query, Amazon “issued a statement that put the focus back on Hachette, bringing up the Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against Hachette and other publishers in 2012,” Streitfeld reports, also pointing out that a petition signed by more than 7,600 lesser-known  — for the most part — writers on Change.org supports Amazon in taking on “New York Publishing.”

Meanwhile, Google Shopping Express is offering a six-month trial membership through Aug. 15 for free, unlimited same-day deliveries in the areas it serves. 

What happens after the six-month membership expires? 

“Great news! For now, it will automatically renew every month at no charge, if you keep your account in good standing,” it says.

Google charges $4.99 per item for same-day delivery for consumers who are adverse to commitment.

The same-day delivery charges, at least initially, beat Amazon’s for most items.

“The partnership could help Barnes & Noble make inroads into online sales when its brick-and-mortar business remains stagnant,” wrote Alexandra Alter, while breaking the story in yesterday’s New York Times.

“The company has closed 63 stores in the last five years, including some in bustling areas of Manhattan and Washington, leaving it with a base of about 660 retail stores and 700 college campus stores. Its Nook business fell 22% in the fourth quarter compared with the period a year earlier, according its most recent earnings report,” Alter reported.

But B&N’s new CEO, Michael Husbey, “is optimistic that his company’s partnership … could help draw new customers to its chain of bookstores,” writes Tom Risen for U.S. News & World Report, along with serving existing customers. 

“If this deal were the precursor of a wider agreement in which Google became an online distributor for Barnes & Noble, that would make a world of a difference for them,” Karsten Weide, a VP for media research at International Data Corporation, told Risen. “In fact, it could save a company which many think it is destined to slowly fade away.”

Wired’s Issie Lapowsky finds it a tad ironic that the threat of Amazon is uniting two “old frenemies” in battle. 

“Here we have Barnes & Noble, whose core brick and mortar business model has been virtually eviscerated by the rise of e-commerce and e-books, making nice with Google, the very backbone of our now digital world,” she writes

But, Lapowsky points out, Amazon has another advantage: It “still offers lower prices than pretty much anywhere else.” Sometimes it’s by dollars; sometimes it’s by pennies. Preston & Childs’ latest hardcover, The Lost Island, is $24.78 on B&N this morning; $24.30 on Amazon (and cheaper through other sellers).

Don’t bother telling that to Hachette. They know.

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