Of course you knew it had to happen, and so now it has. Four days ago (6 December), Google entered the eBook market. Google eBookstore now joins the panoply of Apple’s iBookstore, Barnes and Noble’s, and Amazon’s. Drawing on independent bookstores, such as Alibris and Powell’s, the Google eBookstore offers readers a wide range of new and old titles. One of the more important features is that you can read these books on the iPad,iPhone and Adroid mobile devices as well as the Sony and Nook devices (but see below). But your Kindle? Nope, not so fast. (Can you guess which company Google views as its chief competitor?) Amazon has countered by offering a web-only version of its Kindle the same day Google hit the market. No love lost there!
Google’s video on YouTube announces its new project, beginning with a kind of book-bashing: books haven’t change much in a thousand years but now they can, with Google, and so on. From Google’s eBookstore site is another video, this one about their fabulous, wonderful, grand retail store that will answer all your reading needs. How did we ever get along without them. And really, did anyone ever read before now? You get the picture.
The store is larger than Barnes and Noble’s but not as large as Amazon’s, holding about three million titles. Each ebook entry has a synopsis, reviews, and/or other bibliographic or front matter. You can also read an excerpt. Google stores the books in the reader’s online personal library “cloud,” and offers an unlimited number of titles that can be stored there. Users can log into their cloud and arrange the books as they wish. But you cannot do many of the things with Google’s software that you can on the Kindle. You can’t underline or highlight words, bookmark your place or look up words you don’t know–all definite downsides but likely to be “fixed” in coming upgrades.
NPR did a test read, mentioned here, and others have offered their reviews. What is most troubling about Google’s claim that you can read its ebooks on multiple devices is that it isn’t as true as it might seem. To read their books on a Nook requires you to download them to a PC, then upload via cable to your reader. This is a technology used–without success–by Sony some years ago and represents something step backwards. Surely that will change (and it had better soon). So, when Google says you can read these books “on your devices seamlessly” they mean, “after your go through the rigmarole of getting it downloaded if you’re using a Nook.” If Google doesn’t change this it will mimic the crash and burn episode with its social networking site, Buzz. Downloading to an iPhone or the iPad is about what you’d expect. The Nook experience is an outlier in the process.
Pricing is about the same as Amazon’s running about $9.99 to $12.99 depending on the title. Older titles available for free. All those millions (150 million) of titles Google has been scanning are going to be available, it appears, and sooner rather than later. So look for many titles to roll out, free for the downloading. Also, Google will find more partners and so more options and titles will soon become available. But don’t think that Google’s plan to publish every book ever written is really going to happen right away, if ever. In the first place, many of the titles they have already scanned are tied up in what is referred to as the Google Book Settlement. Books in public domain are being scanned. Orphaned works, or those materials without a clear copyright owner, are in limbo. Google isn’t the only game scanning public domain titles, either. Project Gutenberg has been about task for some time now. Other experts think that Google only wants to appear to be the only game in town so everyone will not only “google” everything when they search, but now also “google ebook” everything they wish to read.
According to some industry experts, Google may be launching the first ad-supported book publishing model. But don’t get the idea that Google’s bookstore is open and completely free. Some argue that Google is more closed than ebook bookstores already in place. For a truly open and free ebook experience, try here.
So, what are the advantages? Not many. Google has the brand-name business in hand, but as far as having a decidedly better mousetrap? Well, that remains to be seen.