With almost as much delay and anticipation as the launch of Kindle, the Google e-bookstore opened its virtual doors yesterday.
When I met with Google at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, they gave me chocolate, smiled broadly and said it was really, really coming after months of delay. But they still wouldn’t give me (or anyone) a date. Now it’s here.
Google offers flexibility across platforms and devices, with 3 million books from over 4000 publishers–including InterVarsity Press, which debuts with over 250 Google Edition titles. Unlike Kindle e-books which can only be purchased on Amazon, one of the unique features of the Google system is that it allows local bookstores to partner with Google to sell books on the store’s own website, giving them relatively easy entry into the e-book market. Hundreds of retailers could be selling Google e-books very soon.
Julie Bosman in the New York Times wrote:
Publishers said they were elated that Amazon would have another serious e-book retailing force to contend with. Only last year, Amazon nearly had the e-book market to itself, leading publishers to worry that they were headed toward an Amazon monopoly.
Since then, a vastly more diversified marketplace has emerged. Last fall, Barnes & Noble introduced an e-reader, the Nook, and more recently, an updated color version, the Nook Color. In April, Apple unveiled the iPad, which the company said in October had sold 7.5 million devices.
Google will not be selling a proprietary device as Kindle does–or any device at all. The e-reader can be used on iPads, Nooks, Androids, the Web and more. One boon for serious readers is that the books are not stored on the devices and thus avoid the fear of binding your e-library to the fate of your device. The Wall Street Journal reported:
The strategy of not having its own e-reader device could actually give Google a competitive advantage, says Brian Murray, CEO of News Corp.’s HarperCollins Publishers Inc. As the number of mobile reading devices—including tablets and smartphones—proliferates, Google Editions will benefit “because their technology may be the least dependent on specific devices,” he says.
Google is huge and hugely successful. But it does not have experience in retail. So what the landscape of the rapidly growing e-book market will be in a year is hard to say–except that it will probably still look a lot like the Wild West.