According to the Wall Street Journal, Google is finally set to start their Google Editions eBook service this month, fulfilling their promise to have to ready before the end of the year, though months after the first anticipated launch date. Independent bookstores are hopeful that the venture will be a boon to their digital sales and allow them to compete with the likes of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Apple. But will it benefit consumers?
If Google pulls this off, the answer is likely to be: Yes. Google Editions won’t be tied to any specific eReader or family of readers. Instead, the company promises that users will be able to buy and access their eBooks –which will be stored in a user’s Google account — from “most” devices with a browser. The Wall Street Journal mentions tablets, smart phones, and PCs, but mysteriously they’re close-lipped about whether users will be able to read these eBooks on existing eReaders.
According to the current version of the Google Editions Program Policies, publishers and individuals may submit books in a variety of formats (including .mobi, which the Kindle can read), but they’re only guaranteeing they’ll sell ePub and PDF at launch. This fits with the whole open theme they have going on as ePub is standard on most eReaders and many more devices can read PDF. This means consumers will be able to read Google Editions on the iPad, Nook, Nook Color, Sony Readers, Alex eReader and almost any other eReader on the market. Depending on the DRM, there’s a strong possibility even Kindle users will be able to take advantage.
Google Editions eBooks will utilize Adobe’s ACS4 DRM scheme, which is more good news. Right now several bookstores utilize Adobe’s DRM — though not always the same version — making it possible to read books from, say, Sony on a Barnes & Noble device. However, there is a slightly labyrinthine process involved in getting books from different systems to play well with eReaders. According to the Program Policies, users will be able to authorize “reading systems” (like eReaders) to their Google accounts, and in turn the systems can read the eBook files. It’s unclear whether this is going to be more or less complex than the current system, but the document does mention that the Adobe Digital Editions will hook into Google Editions, thus making the books transferable to devices that already work with it.
Pricing is expected to be on a par with other popular eBook stores, but now customers will be able to support their local bookstores with eBook purchases and perhaps even buy and transfer to their eReaders right within the store. This is perhaps the best aspect of the whole deal and will hopefully save financially struggling stores that offer more than just a place to buy books. However, there are still drawbacks.
Google already owns so much of my online life, now they want to store all my books. Is it better for Amazon to know me well enough to recommend books, movies, and kitchenware I might like, or is it better for Google to know me well enough to advertise at me effectively? Decisions.
The WSJ hints that the Google Editions launch could be delayed again, but that signs point to a positive outcome. Google should definitely hurry if they want in on any of the holiday buying frenzy. Then again, if they make eBooks giftable then they’ll probably get in on some nice last-minute shopping.