Google announced that they were going into the digital bookselling business at last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. The first e-books for sale from Google Editions, they said, were going to be available in the first half of 2010. As yet, there’s still no sign of them although Google remains adamant that the project is on its way. It’s already clear that there are some key differences between what Google Editions will offer and what’s already on the market.
At the moment, e-book sales are tied to a particular device: Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iPad, Sony’s Reader. This (in theory) makes it easier for publishers to control a book’s digital rights management, but it has obvious disadvantages for readers: books may not be available in the format you want; you can’t trade in your Kindle for an iPad without losing all the books you’ve bought; you can’t lend them to anyone else (though Amazon this week announced that it is keen to allow lending of its Kindle books, publishers permitting – still, not to more than one person and not for more than two weeks).
Google Editions, by contrast, will allow you to set up a ‘virtual bookshelf’ online and access it from any device: PC, laptop, iPad or mobile phone. It seems it will be possible to share your books with friends simply by giving them your password.
Google Books, the internet giant’s online library, has already scanned and made available online (subject to copyright restrictions) more than 12 million books including out-of-print titles. By contrast, when Google Editions finally launches there could be as many as half a million books available (all in print) compared to Amazon’s constantly growing Kindle stocklist of slightly under the half million mark. Google already has agreements with many writers and publishers that small portions of their work will be made available through Google Books (much like Amazon’s ‘look inside’ feature). Subject to further agreement, Google Editions will allow the sale of these books (with the ensuing royalty payments, though the level of reimbursement would need to be negotiated on a title by title basis with each author or the publisher who holds individual rights).
Potential profits are high, however. Google Editions is likely to make a serious dent in Amazon’s share of the e-book market (the Society of Authors has suggested the competition will be a good thing): up to 60 per cent, according to Credit Suisse. Still, the market is growing so quickly that Amazon’s revenue from e-book sales may anyway rise by as much as £450 million a year over the next five to six years. The market for reading devices is expanding rapidly too. Analysts at the Yankee Group recently predicted that the American e-book reader market is ‘about to catch fire sparking from $1.3bn revenue in 2010 to $2.5bn by 2013’. It has been suggested that the delay in launching Google Editions may be deliberate, so that it can tie in with the company’s answer to the iPad – the Google Tablet. Currently, however, there is no launch date for either.