Google Splashes Into E-Book Sales

After months of speculation, Google’s ebookstore opened for business on Monday, revealing answers to questions about what it will offer and the formats it will support.

As well as providing books for sale, Google has made some of its vast collection of out-of-copyright books available for free, including books from Jane Austen, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. The store is presently open only in the United States. It will open in other countries early in 2011.

As with e-books from Amazon, Google’s e-books are priced significantly lower than their print counterparts. Google’s e-book prices are roughly equivalent to Amazon’s, with most popular books falling in the US$9.99 to $12.99 range.

Google e-books are available on virtually every platform except Amazon’s Kindle, although Google notes on its site that it is open to supporting Kindle devices in the future. Readers can download and install the Google e-book reading app for free on any smartphone with an Android platform, as well as on Apple’s iPad, iPhone or iPod touch.

Google e-books also can be read on dedicated e-book readers that support the Adobe eBook platform, including the Barnes & Noble Nook and Readers from Sony. More than 85 devices support the Adobe eBook platform, Google notes.

Google e-books are stored in the cloud and accessible from any browser. Google will provide a free password-protected area with unlimited storage.

Google has also made its collection of out-of-copyright books available for sale. This collection was first launched in 2004. It now totals 15 million-plus titles from more than 35,000 publishers and more than 40 libraries in 400-plus languages.

Everybody Is Competing With Everybody Else

Google’s ebookstore will compete directly with Amazon.

“It’s just amazing how all of these companies are getting into each other’s things,” Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC, told the E-Commerce Times. “You can’t turn around without bumping into a competitor. Google, Amazon, Microsoft — where does it end?

“I’m not saying they won’t do a good job at it,” DiDio continued, “but it remains to be seen how the public will take it. It puts Google in direct competition with Amazon. And for all the stuff Amazon sells, they’re in competition with Target and Wal-Mart.”

For Google, becoming a bookseller is a brand new market.

“Google is now in the position of being a newcomer in a field where Amazon is the established and dominant player. They’re going to have to play catch-up,” said DiDio.

“Google is seeing is enough opportunity to say it’s worth a shot, and the revenue stream could be pretty immediate,” she noted. “Google has enough cash to do this. That’s the amazing thing. They have $33.4 billion in cash, and debt of less than $5 billion. Eric Schmidt is a favorite with Wall Street. Wall Street wants to see it invested.”

Millions of Free Books

Free books are immediately available at the Google ebookstore.

“Google has 2.8 million free books available in the store, and that number will grow over time,” Google spokesperson Michael Kirkland told the E-Commerce Times. “The free books are an opportunity for those who haven’t taken the plunge into e-books to go into the store and download some of those e-books on an Android device or reader. That could lead to a more thorough investigation of e-books.”

Free books, however, may not be that large a draw.

“Out-of-copyright titles are great for a segment of the market, but the bigger part of the market will be looking for new books,” Paul Verna, a senior analyst at eMarketer, told the E-Commerce Times. “That will be Google’s big hurdle — device compatibility and their content mix. Amazon still has a big advantage. They have the more commercially viable content and the category-leading reader.”

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