Google readies Google Editions e-book store
Google is ready to crack the cover of its electronic bookstore. As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, it plans to open its Google Editions site by the end of this month.
This will be an outgrowth of its Google Books project, which allows visitors to browse and preview titles. But where the Mountain View, Calif., firm's existing service points would-be buyers to such stores as Amazon, Google Editions will allow them to buy and read an e-book without leaving that site. They'll also be able to download copies to computers and unspecified e-reader devices for offline reading.
A "Getting started with Google Editions" page on Google's site explains how this will work for publishers. They'll be able to set a price no higher than the lowest list price for a physical copy of a title (Google's default is 80 percent), opt to offer a discounted bundle of paper and electronic versions and choose whether to impose Adobe-provided "digital rights management" controls on downloaded e-books.
Mass-market e-book stores such as Amazon's Kindle Store have made DRM the default, at least for major publishers. It would be a welcome shift if Google let any author or publisher easily decline DRM upfront.
A separate terms and conditions document spells out more details: Google will pay publishers 52 percent of the revenue from titles it sells and 45 percent of the proceeds from those sold by resellers. Those splits fall well below those of such e-book competitors as Amazon and Apple, each of which offer publishers 70 percent.
That document bears a June 2010 stamp, but a version signed by a publisher in September includes the same provisions.
What would a Google Edition look like to a reader? A new Google site called "20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web" shows what's possible. That production marshals advanced HTML5 Web standards to recreate a book's looks, down to specific fonts and pages that curl as you turn them with the cursor. But it also allows you to copy text and share links via Twitter and Facebook. It will save your place if you leave the site; if you disconnect from the Internet halfway through, you can keep reading offline.
Google provided another look at its ideas for Web publishing during its I/O developer conference in May, when Sports Illustrated showed off an interactive Web edition of its magazine built entirely in HTML5.
Google spokeswoman Jeannie Hornung confirmed in an e-mail tha "we plan to launch Google Editions later this year" but said the 20 Things site was not meant to demonstrate the new service. She did not provide other details.
All these details point to a different concept of e-book publishing than what we've seen so far. Where companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have focused on picking a specific book format and then shipping a variety of software and hardware to read it, Google sees the Web as its primary format. Digital downloads merely permit buyers of a Google Edition to read their purchases on devices without Internet access.
You do have to trust Google to live up to its terms document's description of "perpetual" access to titles for buyers. (That sentence also mentions that Google can help users share annotations of books, which would be a handy feature for students). Buying books that will remain on another company's binary bookshelf requires some faith.
But is that more or less of a stretch than hoping Amazon will ship a Kindle application for every new mobile device you might use between now and the end of your life?
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