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Google to Write Next Chapter in E-Books Story

By Rob Spiegel E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
Dec 1, 2010 11:25 AM PT

Google is about to go head-to-head with Amazon and Apple as it readies an e-book store that will debut before the end of the year. Named "Google Editions," the service will be an outgrowth of its Google Books project that allows users to browse and preview titles.

Google to Write Next Chapter in E-Books Story

The news surfaced on the Google Books site this week in a post that notes Google is signing up U.S. publishers and retailers now. Google Editions will extend beyond the United States in the first quarter of 2011.

Google's current service points buyers to stores such as Amazon -- but soon, users will be able to buy e-books directly from Google, downloading them to a variety of platforms, including smartphones.

Google Editions will involve independent retailers as well as publishers, though it's not clear how revenue-sharing will work with retailers. According to the Google Books site, books will also be available on "supported partner devices." It's not clear, however, what that means or whether it could include Amazon's Kindle.

Google initially announced the program last May and planned for a summer launch. That date was pushed back as Google sorted through legal and rights issues. Those issues are solved, company officials have indicated, and Google is ready to start selling e-books in the next three or four weeks.

Kindle Losing Market Share

Amazon's Kindle reader held nearly 70 percent of the e-book market at the beginning of 2010. As of last month, the Kindle owned just 47 percent of the e-book market, with Apple's iPad grabbing 32 percent, according to ChangeWave Research.

Google's entry will shake up the market even more, especially if Google launches a reader to go along with the Google Editions service.

More Questions Than Answers

There are plenty of questions hanging in the air over Google Editions.

"There are key elements that need answering," Sally McKenzie, an independent e-commerce consultant, told the E-Commerce Times. "Title availability -- will Google have or be able to get the titles that people want?"

Another question concerns file format.

"From what I have read, once purchased, the books can be read from any device online without special software," said McKenzie. "That's great, but I personally wouldn't read a book on my PC or laptop. And I would likely not do serious reading on my cellphone."

Pricing is another unknown. "Can Google get or offer values that are better or similar to others?" asked McKenzie.

Will Success Come Automatically?

Google is a mighty large brand, but Amazon and Apple have already established themselves in the e-book market.

"I don't think [Google] can do a slam dunk. Amazon was successful. Apple is successful. So people won't automatically go to it," Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC, told the E-Commerce Times. "I would guess the pricing is going to be competitive, so they will have to compete on brand and features."

Google Editions will also bring up privacy challenges.

"Hopefully the privacy will be protected here," said DiDio. "Reading a book online seems harmless, but what about the privacy? Google hasn't said anything about this."

Additional issues may come up when the service launches overseas.

"People in the U.S. get it first. What happens when you go into countries where Google has had problems?" wondered DiDio. "Some of these books may be banned."

The launch of Google Editions will intensify the competition among the major players.

"This ups the stakes for Amazon, but Amazon has created it own niche. It will be under pressure to respond and to come up with a counterinitiative," said DiDio. "All of these giants are bumping into each other in the search for more revenue."

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