Google has confirmed that it plans a “June or July” launch for its long-signalled foray into the ebook selling business. Called Google Editions, it introduces a major new competitor into the ebook market.

Google Editions’ approach will differ in a couple of significant ways from current outlets including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Apple.

First, Google will be operating both a retail and a wholesale model. The latter will reportedly allow even small independent booksellers to get into the ebook retailing space with a large catalogue of ebooks, something that is today beyond the technical and logistics capabilities of most booksellers.

The second big difference is that Google plans to use the standard web browser for its reading platform and the ebooks themselves will reside “in the cloud” on Google’s servers. This means they’ll be readable by any device that supports a web browser instead of just a narrow group of reading devices supported by a particular online retailer. Another advantage of this approach is that it will not require cumbersome DRM (digital rights management) to prevent copying. Google’s system will, however, still support offline reading via a temporary version of the ebook in the browser’s local cache.

For the emerging digital content industries, this could be an interesting case study in the use of new technologies being built into modern web browsers such as HTML5, the latest version of the technology that underpins the worldwide web. If Google is able to deliver a sophisticated “web app” with features and a user experience that compete with dedicated software such as iPhone and iPad apps, it will give a big boost to the use of open web standards as a way to get content onto the new breed of mobile devices. This will be especially welcome in view of Apple’s recent bad behaviour.

There’s no word yet of which publishers will be likely to support Google Editions but it’s hard to see Google having much trouble attracting publishers who will welcome more competition and Google’s plans to make ebook selling accessible to smaller players. Through it Partner Program which drives the Preview feature of Google Books search, Google already has access to a big share of the world’s publishers.

Google Editions is separate from the Google Book Search programme which has landed Google in hot water through its attempt to digitise millions of the world’s books without rightsholder permission. The company says that Google Editions, which will sell commercially available ebooks, will launch regardless of the outcome of the Google Books Settlement.

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