Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The 10,000-lb gorilla:
Trying out the Google eBookstore

Last week I wrote about the imminent opening of Google's online eBook store, which is challenging the similar operations from Amazon, B&N, Apple and others.

The store is now open, but its name has been changed from Google Editions to Google eBookstore. I like the store.

With over three million free and not-free titles, Google claims to have “the world's largest selection of eBooks.” That seems to beat B&N’s claim to operate the “world’s biggest eBookstore.” Whichever company really has the largest selection, readers have plenty of choices, ranging from current bestsellers to obscure out-of-print titles.

The Google store is an “open” or “device-neutral” sales channel. Unlike Amazon or Barnes & Noble, Google’s eBooks are not aimed at a specific e-reader such as the Kindle or Nook. Many devices are compatible with Google eBooks, including desktops, laptops, netbooks, tablets, smartphones and e-readers. As of now, the service is not compatible with Amazon’s Kindle, but that may change.

The new “Google eBooks Web Reader” lets you buy and read Google eBooks from “the cloud.” Your books can be accessed from multiple devices as you can view messages in Gmail or photos in Picasa—using a free, password-protected Google account with unlimited eBook storage. Free apps for Android and Apple devices make it possible to shop and read while mobile.

With many books, you can select which typeface, type size, day/night reading mode and the line spacing you prefer—and pick up on the page where you left off when switching devices.

In an early experiment, I purchased Mark Twain’s autobiography from my desktop PC, read a bit, and then resumed reading on my iPad. I read a bit, turned it off, and then read some more on my new Samsung phone that uses the Android operating system (developed by Google). There was no lag when switching reading devices. I was impressed.

The Twain book, like some others, is readable in either flowing text, or as a scanned document. The scanned version of the book preserves the look of the printed pages, but doesn’t allow the customization of the type. It’s nice to be able to choose.

You can find and buy ebooks from the Google eBookstore or from a growing list of independent booksellers including Powell’s and Alibris, as well as smaller local “indie” stores. You can choose where to buy eBooks like you choose where to buy pBooks, and keep them all on the same eBookshelf regardless of where you got them.

Since 2004, Google has digitized more than 15 million books from more than 35,000 publishers, more than 40 libraries, and more than 100 countries in more than 400 languages. This huge repository of knowledge and culture will continue to be searchable in the research section alongside the ebookstore on Google.


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