Monday, December 6, 2010

Google Finally Launches Google eBookstore: Claims 3 Million eBooks, But Only Half as Many Contemporary and in-Copyright Titles as Kindle Store

By Stephen Windwalker
Publisher, Planet iPad
Editor, Kindle Nation Daily

After months of promises, Google has finally launched the Google eBookstore today, and here is a link:

Judging from the company's claim that the store has a catalog of 3 million ebooks that can be read virtually everywhere but on a Kindle, it seems that -- for the first time -- the Kindle and Amazon's Kindle Store now face real competition in the ebook device and content markets.

However, well fewer than a third of the new store's offerings are "for sale," suggesting that the vast majority are the same 2 million plus public domain books that are already available free for the Kindle (see our Kindle National Daily Free and Bargain Book Listings page to download any of these wirelessly to your Kindle). The paywalled industry insider website Publisher's Marketplace reported figures this morning that suggest that Google's in-copyright or contemporary ebook catalog may be only half the size of that in the Kindle Store, and Google is refusing to provide title-count figures such as those that are easily available in the Kindle Store.

Google eBooks can be read not only on any computer's browser but with dedicated apps on the nook 1 and Sony ebook readers as well as the iPad, iPod Touch, numerous smartphones and the the Android, but not --as of now -- on the Kindle.

One interesting catch-22 for the ever-challenged Barnes and Noble ebook adventure: Google eBooks is reportedly incompatible with the new nook color device, precisely because Barnes and Noble closed off its Android platform to the general Android Marketplace in an obvious attempt to block the Kindle's Android app.

But any way you cut it, ladies and gentlemen, this new launch is very likely to mean war total thermonuclear ebook war. It could easily have a negative effect on Kindle sales and a positive effect on the sales of competing devices. But before we put up the "Mission Accomplished" banner on Google's new warship, we better give a little time to see how user-friendly the new outlet is. Google has had some notable failures in recent months with adventures like Google Buzz, and its previous launch of Google Books is, ironically enough, a disaster when it comes to searching and browsing. 

Then there's the hardware side. The Kindle is a phenomenally popular piece of hardware for active readers who actually buy books, and has not been seriously challenged by any other dedicated ebook reader. Google's own Android phone blew up on the retail launching pad. While Google eBookstore access is likely to boost interest in the nook as a device, one has to wonder about whether that symbiosis could also lead to the cannibalization of nook content sales.

With respect to the customer service needs of such a major retail venture, it is not known at this point if Google intends to hire humans.

Amazon has been watching these developments closely and is likely to make offsetting announcements very soon. In order to make its Kindle devices compatible with Google eBooks, it appears that all Amazon would have to do would be to open the devices up, presumably with a software update, to either the ePub platform, the Adobe eBook platform, or both. Opening the Kindle to the ePub platform would also have the beneficial effect of allowing Kindle owners to borrow ebooks from libraries when they are available. More of a longshot, but an intriguing possibility, would be a venture in which the Google eBookstore continued to operate as a freestanding shop but also became a branded presence within the Kindle Store. We raise this possibility because Google itself has already opened the door to electronic resellers:
"You can discover and buy new ebooks from the Google eBookstore or get them from one of our independent bookseller partners: Powell’s, Alibris and participating members of the American Booksellers Association."
Yet another possibility, if Amazon actually wants to allow Kindle owners direct access to the Google eBookstore, would be the prospect of further enhancement of the Kindle's Webkit web browser.

"Today is the first page in a new chapter of our mission to improve access to the cultural and educational treasures we know as books," wrote product manager Abe Murray in a post on the official Google blog this morning. "Google eBooks will be available in the U.S. from a new Google eBookstore. You can browse and search through the largest ebooks collection in the world with more than three million titles including hundreds of thousands for sale. Find the latest bestsellers like James Patterson’s Cross Fire and Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, dig into popular reads like Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken and catch up on the classics like Great ExpectationsA Tale of Two Cities and Gulliver’s Travels."

Gee whiz. I wonder how the Google wizards decided upon Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities as the public domain titles with which they would lead. As is so often the case, it is all about Oprah.

Publisher's Marketplace also reports that "While Google 'is not looking for agency terms' with publishers, 'if the publisher has a preference for agency, we'll certainly review it' according to [Google executive Tom] Turvey. The five large agency publishers are all doing business with Google under the same terms as other accounts, and at least two or three other publishers are also selling Google eBooks on an agency basis."

Turvey also told Publisher's Marketplace that Google "is in discussion with every tier one retailer in the world" as a potential sales partner.

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