Google Editions to premiere this Summer

The Wall Street Journal had the main story which most bloggers played off, with these interesting details:

While Mr. Palma didn’t go into details, users of Google Editions would be able to read books from a web browser—meaning that the type of e-reader device wouldn’t matter. The company also could build software to optimize reading on certain devices like an iPhone or iPad but hasn’t announced any specific plans.

By contrast, Amazon’s digital book business is largely focused on its Kindle e-reader and Kindle software that runs on some other hardware.

Publishers have yet to publicly commit to participate in the service but Google isn’t expected to run into much trouble getting them to join. Publishers tend to believe the more outlets to sell books the better. Even the smallest independent bookstore will have access to a sophisticated electronic-book sales service with a vast selection of titles.

Google it is thought will allow publishers to set their own prices. Among the more interesting comments, came from Ian Paul at ComputerWorld:

One point I haven’t been able to confirm: The Journal reported that the e-books would be readable in Web browsers. That’s great, because it makes the e-books device independent. On the other hand: Will you be able to bookmark your place and come back to it later, after you’ve closed the Web page and re-opened it? Will you be able to download e-books for offline reading? You can do both of those things with the Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks.
Will the e-books be available in a standard format so the buyer can have some assurance he’ll be able to read them in years or even decades? Google says its e-book strategy includes an electronic bookshelf for the books you access through Google, “so you can come back and access [them] whenever you want in the future.” Is that true? Or would it be more accurate to add the clause, “as long as Google continues to offer the service.” This is important because books have a long shelf life (so to speak). I’m willing to put up with Digital Rights Management in video and music because I figure I’m only interested in hanging onto that content for a couple of years at most; but I’ve had my favorite books for nearly 40 years, and I hope to hang onto them for at least 40 more. Will I be able to say the same for e-books?
Other questions: How will payment-processing be handled? How will Google generate revenue off this? How will Google split revenue with publishers? Will authors and small publishers be able to self-publish books on Google Editions?
Finally, and this is huge: Will Google screen content, as Apple does, or will Google treat its customers like grownups who can decide for themselves what ideas they and their children should be exposed to?

Update 5/6/2010; Library Journal chimes in, reporting on “the search giant’s “cloud bookstore” of titles available on any device” and further reports on Chris Palma’s talk at a conference held at Random House.

(h/t for the WSJ article to Jeremy Dibell at Philobiblos)

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By Paul Romaine

Paul Romaine is a grant writer and independent curator in New York City.

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