- eBook readers are selling like hotcakes. The Amazon Kindle, Sony Digital Book Reader, Barnes & Noble Nook, Borders Books' Kobo, Apple iPhone, and the Apple iPad collectively have sold millions of units. Consumers are reading more and more books on screens as they find the ebooks are easy to use and easy to read. Even better, obtaining books in electronic format is usually cheaper that purchasing them on paper as the publishers save printing and distribution costs. Google has been watching these trends closely.
- Google Books has become a very popular service, offering millions of books online that can be read on a PC, Macintosh, or Apple iPad. Some other ebook readers are also capable of displaying books found on Google Books.
Now Google is combining the two and will soon offer millions of new and old books in a format that can be read on any Windows computer, Macintosh computer, Sony Book Reader, Nook, Kobo, iPhone, iPad or probably any other ebook reader to be introduced in the future. Google plans to become a digital marketplace, acting as a limitless warehouse and storage system for digital books. The new service will be called Google Editions.
While ebooks presently account for only about 10% of the overall book market, the figure is growing rapidly. Many industry experts now predict that e-books will be 20 to 25 percent of the total in the next ten years and will continue to grow even after that.
Google Editions should contribute to that growth by adding millions of digital titles for sale on any device with Internet access: smart phones, tablets, netbooks, desktops, and every digital reading device except for the Amazon Kindle, which, for now, continues to operate on a closed proprietary system. Google and Amazon are continuing discussions, so that may change in the future.
Google says that through its "Partnership Program," it has made deals with 35,000 publishers and has already scanned millions of titles. I have written several times about Google's scanning of out-of-copyright books. However, the present Google Books service scans books that are still under copyright protection and then allows you to preview up to 20 percent of the title you select. While you cannot read the entire book, you can read enough of it to decide if you want to purchase the book. Google then makes it easy for you to purchase the printed book. Of course, Google gets a commission if you purchase the book online. The new Google Editions will change all that, offering complete books for purchase, even if under copyright protection.
Google Editions will expand the present offerings. You will be able to download out-of-copyright books at no charge and read them on your ebook reader (except for the Kindle). In addition, you will be able to purchase newer books that are still under copyright protection. Those books will be in electronic format, and you will be able to read them immediately.
Tens of thousands of recently-published electronic books have been available in ebook formats for some time. What is new with Google Editions is that Google has gone back and scanned millions of in-copyright books from the 1930s through 1990s, negotiated agreements with the publishers, and is now making the books available electronically for quick and easy purchase in electronic format.
When a consumer purchases a book, that book will be stored on Google's cloud (which means its enormous servers). The purchasers can access their personal library at will. Storing the books in the cloud offers two advantages:
- A consumer can purchase and store thousands of books, regardless of the amount of storage in the ebook reader. For instance, let's assume your ebook reader has enough storage space to store one hundred books. By using Google Editions, you will be able to store a library of many thousands of books as they are stored online in the cloud and are easily transferred to the ebook reader whenever you wish. In addition, if you purchase a newer ebook reader several years from now, all the ebooks you have purchased in the past from Google Editions will be available on your new device at no extra charge.
- Suppose you start reading a book on your iPhone and switch to your tablet or desktop computer. You can pick up where you left off. All books you purchase will be available on any supported ebook reader, including a Windows or Macintosh desktop or laptop computer. You can start reading the book on an ebook reader, then switch to a Macintosh or Windows computer, and then later switch back again whenever you wish.
Google Editions expects to keep your records of purchase forever. If you purchase a book this year, you should be able to download it immediately and then again months or even years from now.
Of course, storing the books on the cloud has a big advantage for Google as well. If 10,000 people purchase the same book, Google only has to store one copy of it plus a record of those people who have purchased it. If a purchaser wishes to download the book again in the future, Google's software simply looks up the purchaser's records to verify the purchase at some time in the past, then grants access to the stored file.
Google Editions may become the world's largest seller of e-books. That should be major competition for Amazon! Unlike Amazon, Google Editions will be selling new books and even long-out-of-print books that were published 50, 75, or even 100 years ago.
Of course, this is going to become major competition for bookstores. The so-called "brick and mortar" bookstores are already reeling from competition from online stores. The specialty bookstores have been especially hard hit. For instance, many genealogy bookstores have already disappeared in the past ten years, and others reportedly are struggling. Having millions of books available instantly online will add even more competition for traditional book stores.
On the upside, Google Editions will also serve as a wholesaler for any other retailer that wants to sell e-books from its own websites. The American Booksellers Association, the trade association for the independents, has contracted with Google to be an e-book supplier and infrastructure back office. So far, 225 of the ABA's 1,400 members have signed on to the program, and more are expected to sign up once Google Editions launches later this summer. Each of these stores will have their own website that will feature the full catalog of Google's titles as well as features specific to the community being served.
For instance, RootsBooks.com (an online genealogy book store that I own) will now be able to offer all the genealogy books available from Google Editions, as well as millions of other books.
As a result, Google Editions will have two major functions: it will be a storefront selling millions of books, and it also will serve as a wholesaler to smaller booksellers and publishers who have been unable to fashion their own efficient means of e-book delivery.
Prices for Google Editions' offerings will vary from one book to another, depending upon what Google has been able to negotiate with each publisher. Each publisher will demand whatever prices they can command, and Google Editions is expected to simply add a fee on top of the publishers' payments. However, all prices are expected to be significantly cheaper than purchasing the same books on paper.
This looks like a winning service. It provides instant access to millions of books without having to drive to a book store. Access will be available nights, weekends, and holidays when traditional stores are not open. Instant access will also be available to those in rural areas, far from the nearest large bookstore. Books will be available on Google Editions that have not been available for purchase for decades. As the rest of the world is rapidly being wired for the Internet, books will also be available in third-world countries where students may be hundreds of miles away from the nearest library.
Best of all, prices are expected to be lower than those of printed books. Out-of-copyright books will continue to be available at no charge, only in more formats and easier to download than ever before. While books may only be read on-screen on most ebook readers, reading the same book on a Windows or Macintosh computer should add the capability to print a few pages or even the entire book on a local printer, all within seconds after purchasing the book.
I like the convenience of being able to carry hundreds, or even thousands, of books on an ebook reader or a laptop computer. It will be easy to read any of the books in your personal library when at home, at the beach, on a commuter train, or on an airliner. Not one book or two books, but possibly thousands of books. You can easily carry novels, census records, a dictionary, or an entire encyclopedia with you whereever you go. Try that with printed books!
Whatever happens, Google Editions is another very big development in the reinvention of the world of books.