Google Inc. yesterday announced it will begin selling e-books via its Google Editions venture as early as next month. In addition, the search engine giant plans to act as a wholesaler of electronic books, making its catalog of e-books available to other online book retailers.
In making these moves, Google joins an increasingly crowded space that includes online giants such as Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc. and Barnes & Noble Inc. While the market has several large retailers, the e-book space is burgeoning, with Forrester Research Inc. estimating that online retailers will sell about $500 million worth of e-books this year.
To buy a book from Google, users will be able to click “buy book” in its Book Search product on Google.com.
Google says it plans to distinguish its e-book store by allowing consumers to access books from any web browser using any device that has web connectivity. Instead of downloading the e-book, consumers will buy online access to the e-book. That’s not unlike Google’s other products, such as its Google Docs word-processing and other applications, which rely on consumers having web access, says Sarah Rotman Epps, Forrester analyst. “[Google products] are really built for connectivity,” she says.
That browser-based approach also means that Google Editions will be device-agnostic, she says. “Consumers will be able to buy Google books from any device and that’s important because the number of devices is proliferating,” she says. “It’s in Google’s interest to be everywhere consumers are.”
That web-based approach may only be an entry point to the e-book market, says Rotman Epps. “It makes sense for Google to reach the greatest number of consumers off the bat, but from there we wouldn’t be surprised to see them create applications that improve the user experience,” she says.
Google says it will also make its e-books available for independent bookstores to sell and will give those retailers the vast majority of the revenues. “That’s a win-win-win for consumers and independent bookstores and Google,” says Rotman Epps. “Up until now independent bookstores have been the biggest losers in the e-book phenomenon because they don’t have the resources to build their own e-book store. But they have clientele that would like to remain loyal. This will allow them to serve their customers in a new way.”
Google’s initial motivation is to increase the use of its Book Search product—and that distinguishes it from Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble, says J. Gerry Purdy, managing director of mobile research firm MobileTrax LLC. “Apple’s driver is in selling devices that offer an outstanding user experience, particularly in its iBook store,” he says. “Amazon is interested in the e-commerce angle of selling its Kindle and e-books. Google is primarily focused on its search. If Google puts more books and manuscripts in its search, more people will use its search and it will make more money.”