Google Editions ebook store is just a couple of months away

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.

Comments (7)

  1. Bill Bennett

    I’m not sure about the worthiness of off-line viewing in a browser cache. I can think of so many ways that will be a less than stellar experience. Mind you, if anyone can make it work, Google can.

    The interesting part is: “Allow even small independent booksellers to get into the ebook retailing space with a large catalogue of ebooks.”

    This is something I’ve been expecting to see – and been disappointed up until now.

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  3. Martin Taylor (Post author)

    Yes, Bill, the technology challenge of creating a great reading experience with HTML/CSS/javascript type technologies is pretty daunting. They’ve been working on this for quite a while and put off the launch a bit, presumably to get the technology working well and perhaps to wait for better HTML 5 support to appear across browsers.

    Glad you picked up on the point about wholesaling ebooks. This is good to see – always, of course, with the caveat that we’d also like to see more competition than just Google at the wholesale level. Right now, the barriers to entering the ebook retail business are too daunting for all but the biggest.

    The blossoming of many smaller ebook stores should also be aided by the publishers’ experiment with the agency pricing model. If the retail price of books is uniform (set by the publisher), it makes it easier for small players to compete and harder for large players to totally dominate. Look at Germany which has made discounting books illegal for years and has a thriving indie bookstore industry.

  4. Rick Shera

    Hard to see that Google Book Search and this new facility are unconnected. I’m sure that when I search GBS, even if the book I’m searching is not available for Google to sell (because it has not partnered with the copyright owner), I’ll be offered up direct links to similar partner books in its online book store. For books that Google has scanned without permission and is showing online, this is effectively leveraging someone else’s content for Google’s own benefit.

    Conversely, the search habits of millions of people that Google will collect via GBS will be incredibly useful in so may ways for its book store and for the competitive advancement of many of its other services.

  5. Martin Taylor (Post author)

    Rick, no question as you point out that the Google Book Search is going to give Google some big advantages in this space if it goes ahead. Even if it fails to get court approval, I’d imagine that Google will still be able to use the Rights Registry which means that it will already have accounts with a huge number of the world’s publishers and authors, not a bad start for getting content and commerce under way. Unless Judge Chin (or his successor) tells them to hit the “delete” key on the registry.

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