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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Google close to opening eBook store

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, Jessica E. Vascellaro and Amir Efrati, Google is in the final stages of launching its long-awaited eBook retailing venture, Google Editions. The project could shake up the digital book business, starting this month.

It was reported that the long-delayed venture has finally cleared several technical and legal hurdles, and is set to debut in the U.S. by the end of December and internationally in the first quarter of 2011. The service was originally supposed to open for business last summer.

According to the WSJ, in recent weeks, independent booksellers, which are expected to play a big role in Google Editions, began receiving contracts. Several publishers said they were exchanging files with Google—a sign that it is close to launch.

Google Editions hopes to upend the existing eBook market by offering an open, "read anywhere" model that is different from competitors. Users will be able to buy books directly from Google or from multiple online retailers and add them to an online library tied to a Google account. They will be able to access the Google accounts from most devices with a web browser, including computers, smartphones and tablets.

That's a different approach from Amazon.com, which is estimated to have as much as 65% of the market. Users of its proprietary Kindle device can purchase books only from an Amazon store, although they can read them on dozens of different devices and can access free books from other sources.

Because of Google's reach, many believe Google Editions has the potential to transform the eBook market. Digital book sales are expected to reach nearly one billion dollars this year, more than triple 2009's sales.

Google says it is on a mission to reach all Internet users, not just those with tablets, through a program in which websites refer their users to Google Editions. For example, a surfing-related site could recommend a surfing book, point readers to Google Editions to purchase it, and share revenue with Google. Through another program, booksellers could sell Google e-books from their websites and share revenue with Google.

"Google is going to turn every Internet space that talks about a book into a place where you can buy that book," says Dominique Raccah, publisher of Sourcebooks. "The Google model is going to drive a lot of sales. We think they could get 20% of the e-book market very fast."

The strategy of not having its own e-reader device could give Google a competitive advantage, says Brian Murray, CEO of publisher HarperCollins. As the number of mobile reading devices—including tablets and smartphones—proliferates, Google Editions will benefit "because their technology may be the least dependent on specific devices," he says.

Google has signed deals with many major book publishers, and is expected to offer hundreds of thousands of titles for purchase, and millions more for free. The majority of titles that currently are available in other e-bookstores would be available on Google Editions at launch or shortly after, with prices similar to those at Amazon and B&N.

But Google is also facing considerable hurdles due to its late start and different model. Many digital book buyers have long-established retail loyalties based on proven shopping experiences. Google's retail experience has been largely limited to selling ads.

The e-book store is an extension of Google's ambitious—and sometimes controversial—plan to scan the world's 150 million or so books and make them accessible to users of Google's Web-search engine. Thanks to several book-scanning centers located near major libraries, Google executives say the project, dubbed Google Books, is 10% complete.

Google's launch comes at a pivotal moment in the digital books transformation. eBook readers have become much more affordable. When Amazon launched its Kindle reader in 2007, the device cost $399. Today, new e-readers can be found for $99 and less, pushing them into the mass market.

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