Thanks to Google Editions, Google has put Amazon, Barnes & Noble and every other vendor with a stake in e-readers on high alert: The game is already changing.
Google's Google Editions service is a cloud-based online bookstore that will allow customers to buy e-books through a variety of formats for use on any number of devices. The main challenge to e-reading titans like Amazon and its budding Kindle empire is that Google's e-reading product is neither a dedicated e-reading device -- which is the most commonly seen Kindle threat, with everyone from Sony and Plastic Logic to, soon, Barnes & Noble in the game-- nor a quaint e-reading application.
Rather, it's a full-tilt online library through which Google will get a piece of how e-books are bought and sold. Google Editions also will support the widest variety of e-reading formats -- a direct challenge to Kindle and any other e-readers that insist on a closed, proprietary format. Let Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony and everyone else kill each other over e-reading supremacy, Google seems to be saying, we'll just get a piece of every coming-and-going e-book.
Details on Google Editions, amassed from news reports and confirmation from Google itself, reveal that Google Editions is set to launch sometime in the first half of 2010 and, according to Google, will have about 500,000 titles available from day one.
Reuters further reported that Google-sold e-books also will be indexed and searchable similar to the way that Google has organized its controversial Google Book Search project. Any device with a Web browser -- computer, mobile device, whatever -- will reportedly be able to access Google Editions, and books that are purchased will be available in the cloud but also be available offline, cached in that browser.
How the money end works is that customers will log in to Google Editions and buy an e-book, through Google Editions, from a publisher. Google's cut is about one-third (37 percent) of the gross sales, and the publisher gets 63 percent. Google is also allowing third-party retailers to sell books through Google Editions, a situation in which retailers pocket 55 percent, publishers 45 percent, and the retailers pay a fee to Google to use the service. Bottom line in both cases? Google gets a healthy slice of the e-reading sales pie.
All of these attributes are crucial in that they expose limited reach on the part of Amazon Kindle and other e-reader vendors that are still thinking of e-books in terms of dedicated e-reading devices and applications.
The competition for e-readers may be heating up -- and Amazon is going head-to-head with Sony and other challengers -- but Google's Editions will vault the search giant ahead as it appears to be making good on a promise to build a true digital books ecosystem. It's focusing on the means, not the devices (although if the Barnes & Noble e-reader is powered by Google Android, as rumored, it's on the end devices, too).
With the e-reading game shifting away from devices to formats and digital book ecosystems, how long will Google rivals hold out on e-readers if Editions take off? As the year where e-readers took off in a big way begins to wind down, 2010 should be even more interesting.