Current reports have indicated that the much awaited Google entry into the eBook marketplace is soon to be released. We had expected to see this early in the summer, based on initial time-lines, but some technical difficulties and a few not so technical difficulties got in the way. More recent reports lead expectant readers to believe that we will now see a store unveiling within the next month! Google Editions, as it is currently known, will be an extension growing from the established Google Books service.
The central idea behind the service, as best as I can tell, is that users will be able to access their purchased books through any device with a web browser after they log into their Google account. This would eliminate the need for dedicated eReading devices, in theory, while still allowing access to your purchased books on devices like the Kindle that have web browsing capabilities. The one obvious functional roadblock comes from the inability to access your eBooks without an internet connection. Supposedly there will be the option to download your purchases, but so far no information about format or offline compatibility seems to be available. This could slightly hinder adoption by owners of Nook and Kindle devices, since leaving y0ur internet connection constantly turned on can cause significantly faster battery drain.
It is unclear at this point what the potential is for success here. Google has a reputation for doing things right, but they face an established market of competitors at this point and a lack of goodwill from existing copyright holders(as evidenced by the need for a 2008 settlement on lawsuits related to the Google Books service). It won’t help matters that Google will not allow publishers to set their list prices for eBooks at a price higher than the lowest priced print version of the same book, nor that the default pricing will be set at 80%. Will the popularity of the service be enough to overcome this? We can only wait and see. Personally, I’m hoping so. My only major complaint about the Kindle has been the closed format restrictions that it forces on me, so ways around that would be more than welcome.
Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has announced its intention to enter eBook market in June, 2009. Then there were some preliminary announcements of deals with publishers. But as Sony (NYSE:SNE), B&N (NYSE:BKS) kept releasing their own products everyone seemed to forget about the search engine company. With Amazon Kindle vs. Nook, Sony vs. Kindle and iPad vs. everyone and their dog nobody seemed to take Google eBook initiatives seriously. One year ago I believed and I still do that if someone were to dethrone Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) as eBook leader, it would be Google and not other eInk reader manufacturers and definitely not Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).
Recently Google has announced that Google Editions will go live and start selling books in the Cloud as early as June, 2010. Although Google is not known for generating excessive hype for their products through extreme secrecy and controlled leaks little is known about the upcoming service so far:
- There will be a reader application that will run on any modern browser. iPad users will definitely be able to accesses it. eInk -based devices with browser capabilities like Kindle and Nook are a big “if”.
- You would be able to download books in some “open” format and read them on inexpensive “independent” eInk readers that support it. Although it wasn’t officially announced what that format might be my bets are on ePub. Whether it will have some form of DRM or not remains to be seem. Most likely it will. Otherwise it wouldn’t make sense for Google to keep Kindle out as they could easily attract millions of current Kindle owners who already buy and appreciate eBooks by supporting DRM-free Mobipocket format.
- Publishers will be able to set their own price. Does it mean that there will be no “$9.99” books? Hard to say. It’s true that Amazon put a lot of effort in trying to keep the prices low however even apart from Amazon efforts there is also free market that will prevail eventually. Should the service become popular, after some time prices there would be representative of true market pricing. I believe that Amazon prices are currently below market because Amazon is pushing the book prices down to promote the Kindle reader and lock-in customers.
- Publishers will keep 63% of the book price, Google will pocket remaining 37%.
- It would be possible for online book retailers to use Google Edition platform to sell eBooks. Essentially these are going to be the same books. Retailer will get 55% of revenues and pay a small fee to Google, publisher will get the remaining 45%.
- Publishers would also be able to act as a retailer in which case they keep all the revenue minus small Google fee.
- Google Editions is expected to launch with 500,000 titles. I expect that many if not most of these will be public domain books.
Will Google Editions succeed? Hard to tell. If it will, it would not be because of “open format” but because of ease of use and book selection. After all, people don’t want to buy eReader (be it eInk or not), people don’t care about whether format is open or not (although 1984 argument may scare some people, in reality eBooks are little different from paper books in this regard for all practical purposes) . What people do want is to read books that they find interesting. Whoever would make it the easiest would win.
So far Google seems to have following advantages:
- Google Editions will work in browser. Every computer be it Mac, PC or linux based DIY desktop has a browser. Phones have browsers too (though I find it hard to believe that the app would be usable on a small screen). This means that you don’t have to install any software – just type in the URL and you are ready to go. This is a big plus as people don’t like/don’t know how/are afraid to install stuff on their computers.
- Since Google Editions runs in a browser it’s very convenient for Google that they actually own most of what is displayed in a browser. Many people set Google.com as their homepage. And when they want to buy something (including books) they “google” it. Google can rank their book store 1st, 2nd and 3rd for popular queries like “Twilight Eclipse” with a flick of a switch. Of course doing something this brutal and straightforward would get them in a lot of antitrust trouble. But there are many more subtle options.
- Because publishers can control the price they may be more likely to sign up for the program.
- Wide range of supported devices may be a plus.
There are some things that are stacked against Google:
- It was clearly announced that Amazon Kindle device is not supported. So Google will have hard time attracting existing Kindle customers who already purchased the device and books. These people wouldn’t want to forfeit their existing collections. It would be really hard to convert these people.
- Having many devices to chose from can be a problem. Some people are confused by choice. When you buy Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader, you can be sure that these companies will stand behind their devices, support them and you would be able to buy books for years to come. With “independent” readers there is always a chance of device becoming incompatible with Google store since Google doesn’t own the device, doesn’t support it and has no control over it. And of course “independent” readers are locked out of closed leading book stores like Amazon, Sony and B&N.
All in all it’s a coin toss about who will come out on top (if anyone). My money is 50/50 on Amazon and Google.