Google has finally announced its long-awaited eBookstore, a cloud-based system to allow readers to buy ebooks online from a choice of booksellers and to read them with a variety of devices.
No Google e-reader?
Google has produced a full-featured Webkit browser, and also native free Android and Apple iOS applications for shopping for and reading for e-books, explained James Crawford, director of engineering for the Google eBooks team.
He said the system and browser, and native Android and iOS apps, have been fully tested internally four times, starting in July.
Crawford said that one advantage of the Google cloud approach is that users will have a common bookshelf where they can keep their purchases, which can be accessed from any number of devices without the need for a user to recall which device has a certain book.
However, the Google system currently won't allow eBook sharing, which some other systems support, and Google eBooks cannot currently be integrated with books purchased from Amazon, Crawford said. Kindle is not supported because it uses a proprietary DRM system that means Google "cannot protect content if we put it on a Kindle".
Google didn't announce a special Google e-reader but has developed Android for a range of smartphones and tablets already that will serve that purpose, Crawford said. "The idea is that you can read these e-books on devices you already own," he said.
Weiner said he expects that the Android operating system, and the Chrome OS, will eventually be used to develop special e-book-reading apps that allow for the sharing of books and highlighting of passages -- features that competitor Barnes & Noble already provides with the Nook reader.
A major focus of Google's e-bookstore has been on independent booksellers and publishers of academic books, Google officials said.
Publishers, bookstores pile on
About 4,000 publishers are part of the US launch of Google eBooks, ranging from Random House and Penguin to the Oxford University Press, McGraw-Hill and Wiley, said Amanda Edmonds, director of strategic partnerships for the Google eBooks team.
Also, about 200 independent bookstores in the American Booksellers Association will be able to use the Google eBook platform to sell books, sharing profits with Google without the need to build an online platform, she said.
Powells, an independent chain of bookstores in Oregon, and Alibris are aligned with the Google system also, Edmonds said.
In essence, users will be able to discover and buy new e-books from the Google eBookstore or get them through the independent bookseller partners.
"The local bookstore can tap into that e-book infrastructure and can sell eBooks, something they've been shut out of today," Edmonds added.
Weiner said that, depending on the kind of e-book that's sold, Google will get 20 to 30 percent of the price.
Social network hooks for books
Google is also working with a social networking site for book lovers called Goodreads, Edmonds said. With Google's involvement, a user on Goodreads could pick up a recommendation of a book from a friend on the site, then click through to buy the book.
"Wherever you are on the web, if it's making searches on Google, or at a retail site that is featuring a novelist you are interested, or reading a person writing a blog, you should have that ability to click through and buy a book," Edmonds said.
Crawford said Google eBooks will be available for purchase in the US today and in the UK sometime in the first quarter of 2011.
Google first began is Google Books initiative in 2004, based on the belief of its founders that information in the world's books should be made accessible online, Crawford said.
Since that time, Google has digitized 15 million books from 35,000 publishers and more than 40 libraries, and from more than 100 countries, Crawford said. Those digitised books will continue to be searchable through Google Books in the research section of the eBookstore.
Google first announced its Google eBook concept in late 2009. Crawford said forging thousands of contractual agreements with publishers and partners and orchestrating "many moving parts" contributed to the time to launch. The internal testing of browsers started in July 2010.