Would you rather read an e-book on a Kindle, an iPad, or your cellphone? Google Editions doesn't really care. They're hoping for your business, regardless of which device you favor. And that flexibility seems likely to win them a big slice of the e-book pie.
It is widely known that Google has been scanning books in earnest for the last few years and has amassed a catalog of 12 million in- and out-of-print titles. Yesterday the company announced that in late June or July it will enter the e-book retailing market through its Google Editions venture.
The company's "vision is to be able to access books in a device agnostic way," says company spokesperson Gabriel Sticker, pointing out that this is "a different approach to what most readers today have."
This can only be good news for readers. Google Editions will allow readers to read books from a Web browser – meaning that it doesn't matter what kind of device they prefer to read on. The company could also, as The Wall Street Journal points out, eventually choose to "build software to optimize reading on certain devices like an iPhone or iPad" – although it has yet to announce "any specific plans" to do so.
Google Editions may prove to be good news for booksellers as well. The Journal notes that Google Editions "will also allow book retailers – even independent shops – to sell Google Editions on their own sites, giving partners the bulk of the revenue."
There is much that remains to be understood about Google's presence in the e-book market. PC World has already listed its "five burning questions": Will Google rely on Web or mobile apps? Will Google's Android users have any advantage? Will Google Editions help small booksellers? Will it offer features like bookmarking, highlighting, or cut-and-paste? Does this open the door to new e-book formats?
Also, Google has not yet decided whether publishers or Google itself will set the retail price for the books it sells.
Such matters are not yet known. (And in a related but separate matter, Google is also waiting to hear the results of its legal struggle to win rights to distribute millions of out-of-print books through its digital book settlement with authors and publishers. The Wall Street Journal says that "US District Court Judge Denny Chin is expected to rule in that case soon.")
One thing, however, does seem immediately clear. The e-book market is booming. (Analysts at the Yankee Group predict that sales will jump from $1.3 billion in revenue in 2010 to $2.5 billion in 2013.) And Google Editions seems well positioned to attract a significant portion of those dollars.
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.