Google to Start Selling E-Books This Summer

Google Inc. plans to begin selling e-books this summer over a platform that would allow readers to load the books onto multiple electronic devices, the company said Tuesday.

As many as 500,000 books could be included, pulled from the partners with whom Google already made deals for its Google Books search engine. Photo: Flickr

Google Inc. is gearing up to compete with Apple Inc. on one more market: digital books. At a publishing industry panel in New York yesterday, Google announced that it will begin selling digital books as early as June, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Google’s book service will be called Google Editions and will allow customers to search for digital books and purchase them both on Google’s site and on retailer sites that sell Google books. The service will also let users easily access electronic books from multiple devices. Retailers who feature Google Editions will receive most of the revenue from sales.

As many as 500,000 books could be included, pulled from the partners with whom Google already made deals for its Google Books search engine (previously called “Google Print” and “Google Book Search”). The books can be downloaded via web browser and will presumably not be tied to any particular device or platform. However, no details were given regarding the price of e-books or which publishers would participate in the project.

Such a move would position Google to compete in the fast-growing e-book market with Amazon.com and Apple Inc. Amazon launched its Kindle e-reader in late 2007 and has since taken a commanding lead in the market.

Apple launched its iPad tablet last month, along with its iBookstore service to sell e-books for the device. The company said Monday it has sold 1 million iPads and 1.5 million copies of e-books in the past month. Amazon has never released sales data for the Kindle.

It seems Google will sell eBooks as PDFs or in the ePub format. Having read PDFs on the Kindle and the iPad, we can tell you they provide an poor substitute for reading books purchased from the Kindle store or the Apple’s iBookstore.

As for ePub, Kindle doesn’t offer native support although it’s possible to use 3rd-party apps to convert ePub files to Kindle-friendly formats. You can also read ePub books on an iPad using third-party apps such as Stanza, although it hasn’t been updated for the iPad yet so you need to upscale the Stanza iPhone app instead.

Even when it is updated for the iPad, Stanza still won’t be as impressive as the iPad’s native iBook app. You also lose that seamless user experience that the Kindle and iPad achieve through tight integration with their own book stores.

So, the Big G is working to win over publishers to its proposal. The event Tuesday was sponsored by the Book Industry Study Group and held at Random House’s Manhattan offices under the title: “The Book on Google: Is the Future of Publishing in the Cloud?”

The Google Editions service will launch whether or not the company is able to reach a settlement with authors and publishers over rights to millions of out-of-print books that are still under copyright protection, according to Stricker. The service will involve titles that are in print and covered under an agency deal with publishers. Out-of-print titles may be added if the settlement is successful.

We don’t have enough details about Google Editions yet to know exactly how those contests will affect it, but they’re cause for concern.  So, have you embraced eBooks? How do you prefer to read them? [via The Wall Street Journal]

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