By Harry McCracken | Monday, December 6, 2010 at 7:00 am
It hasn’t been exactly a well-guarded secret, but now it’s official: Google is launching an e-book store to compete with Amazon’s Kindle store and its rivals. The company isn’t selling an e-reading device of its own–instead, it’s focusing on selling digital books and making them widely available for existing hardware. I haven’t tried its new offerings yet, but it gave me a sneak peek at the news last week.
There’s an Android app…
…and an iPhone one…
…and an iPad one…
…but the big news is that rather than building Windows and Mac apps, Google is launching an online ebook service that lets you read your tomes on any system with an Internet connection.
(Note the unusual reading view: a real-book-like spread, plus another pane.)
Here’s Google’s own video about its e-books, which it also discusses in this blog post:
Google says it has the largest e-book collection on the planet–more than three million ebooks, including “hundreds of thousands” of for-pay ones. It’s hard to gauge how that compares to other major e-book stores, because there are no consistent standards for counting the number of books offered. But nobody else claims to have more books than Google does: Amazon.com. for instance, says it has 750,000 Kindle books plus another 1.8 million public-domain works; Barnes & Noble claims over two million Nook books but doesn’t differentiate between modern copyrighted ones and public-domain stuff; Sony touts more than a million free books but doesn’t seem to state how many for-pay ones it has.
(Both Barnes & Noble and Sony, incidentally, get public-domain books from Google Books, so some of their offering are presumably identical to some in Google’s new store.)
Still unknown is how Google’s prices will stack up: Prices in existing e-book stores tend to be pretty similar overall, with many books going for $9.99, and some selling for either a few dollars less than that or a few dollars more.
Unlike Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Sony’s e-books, Google’s can also be bought through independent booksellers, including Portland’s amazing Powells, Alibris, and members of the American Booksellers Association. I like the idea of buying ebooks from a scrappy independent store and thereby throwing at least a little profit its way, but it’s not immediately clear to me how Google’s partners will add unique value to the shopping experience.
None of this has anything to do with Google’s really interesting digital book initiative, Google Books. It’s scanned more than fifteen million volumes for that, but much of information in them remains hidden except in frustrating “snippet” view. Last year, the company hammered out a settlement with copyright owners that aims to make vast numbers of in-copyright but out-of-print books available, but it awaits court approval. Assuming it gets the go-ahead, Google’s eBooks offering could go from a slight twist on existing offerings to something quite remarkable. Here’s hoping it happens, and happens soon.