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Google poised to sell ebook adverts. Will reading ever be the same again?

By Matthew Shaer / June 2, 2009

A Sony ebook reader on display at a bookshop in London. Google on Monday announced its intention to launch an ebook program by the end of the year.

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Yesterday, Google confirmed it will soon enter the ebook market – a move that sent shockwaves through the ailing publishing industry. Although details are scare, Gabriel Stricker, a Google spokesman, told MediaPost today that the company was committed to "helping our partners find more ways to make their books accessible and available for purchase." Stricker estimated that Google would begin offering titles as soon as of the end of this year.

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So what will the media giant's entry into the ebook fray mean for the average reader? Well, first of all, don't expect Google to manufacture a device. And don't look for Google to get into the content business. Instead, as Motoko Rich writes in the New York Times, the company will largely act as a filter – a clearinghouse for millions of fiction, nonfiction, and reference titles. The ebook program will "pit Google against Amazon.com, which is seeking to control the e-book market with the versions it sells for its Kindle reading device."

You can read more about it from yesterday's post: Study reveals Kindle’s weak points as Google enters the ring

I see you're reading Emily Post. Can I sell you some stamps?

This program is separate from Google's controversial scanning project, which seeks to digitize some seven million out-of-print volumes from libraries around the world. The aim with the new initiative is strictly commercial: ebook sales are expected to surge in coming years, as more Americans embrace ebooks and digital reading devices such as the Kindle. If Google positions itself well – and the company has dominated nearly every field it has entered – it could serve as a counterweight to Amazon's explosive growth in the ebook market. More intriguingly, it could revolutionize the way we read books.

Google has already proven remarkably adept at web advertising. The AdSense program is a huge success, and is often credited with tipping the traditional advertising paradigm on its head. Over at MediaPost, Laurie Sullivan hints that Google could do something similar with in-text ebook advertising. "For Google," she writes, "it all comes down to data from advertising.... Web-enabled devices, such as ebook readers, provide feedback." In other words, Google could track a user's reading patterns, just as it tracks a user's search terms – and produce an intricate, dynamic profile for potential advertisers. In this scenario, a reader of the latest Michael Pollan book might find herself face to face with an advertisement for the nearest organic grocery.

Intrusive? Maybe. But there are signs that the longstanding resistance to certain kinds of adverts is fading. Last month, for instance, the Los Angeles Times published an advertisement for a television series on the front page of the paper – once an off-limits area for advertisers.

Let's play Monopoly

Lastly, there's always the M word to consider. Writing in Computerworld, Matt Hamblen noted that "the prospect of Google's taking on an e-book role can be viewed as exciting and unnerving because it could greatly expand the use of e-book technology, but it also could put too much power in the hands of Google."

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