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Google Editions: eBooks in The Cloud

The next chapter in publishing is being written by Google with their much-anticipated planned entry into the e-book marketplace, Google Editions. With an impressive 25,000+ publishers from around the world already signed on, an estimated 4 million plus books (combining expired copyright titles with publishers' own titles), and the promise of a "cloud bookstore" of titles available to read on almost any device, the rapid evolution of publishing is set to take another leap forward when Editions launches in July.

With Editions, purchased books will exist only in a consumer's “library,” or cloud-based collection of titles, rather than as files downloaded to an e-reader or local repository. This personal library can then be accessed from any Web browser—thereby ensuring that users aren’t tied to a given device, operating system, or even a particular vendor—and is the core element of what Google calls an “open ecosystem” in the e-book market.

Google's vision of openness is exactly the kind of approach lauded by digital publishing gurus like Tim O'Reilly; however questions remain regarding vertical integration and other issues. Speaking with Publishers Weekly on May 4, 2010 he opined, "I think 'buy anywhere, read anywhere' is a really good vision. But where I feel like Google is still kind of doing it wrong is that they're acting like the old AOL-era Web, rather than like the Web of today. A 'buy anywhere, read anywhere' vision is: I buy my ePub at O'Reilly, I register it with Google, and Google keeps track of the pointer, the cloud file, or whatever, as opposed to 'buy anywhere, read anywhere, as long as the book is hosted by Google. . .'"

While pundits like O'Reilly provide a healthy dose of skepticism, the timing of Google Editions makes it virtually irresistible for publishers to sign up for four compelling reasons:

  • Google Editions will use the ePub format, so it will be accessible on almost all of the new tablets, eReaders, smartphones, and other emerging eReading devices (with the notable exception of Amazon’s Kindle, which doesn’t support ePub)

  • Google’s proven ability to bring innovation to the mainstream in rapid time, combined with tens of thousands of publishers signed on before launch

  • A massive selection of titles from self-published to bestsellers on offer

  • Google’s openness to the agency pricing model

Mark Nelson, a Google Strategic Partner, shared a few more pertinent details of this hotly anticipated offering while speaking to an audience at last month’s BEA conference in New York, as reported by Library Journal. While refusing to name any specific publishers who have already signed on, he assured the audience that pricing would be competitive and that the majority of revenues from sales will go to publishers.

The first half of 2010 delivered game-changing developments in publishing, from high-profile pricing battles to iPad fever, and the second half looks set to be just as eventful. Whether publishers find out the devil is in the details with Google Editions or that heaven really is up in the “clouds” remains to be seen.

Renee Soucy – Marketing Professional

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