Google Goes into eBook Business

What happens when a company that dominates one industry tries to enter another in which there is already a dominant player? You’d expect to see a huge home team advantage – but what if the field is the Internet, and the players are Google and Amazon? With Google unveiling its new digital ebooks program this week, a titanic battle may ensue.

Google offers  users of its digital ebooks one important advantage that Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sony and other ebook device sellers don’t. Google’s eBooks can be displayed on any device capable of accessing the web. With Amazon and the others, you can only read your ebook on the vender’s device, and no others. Scott Dougall, product management director for Google eBooks, notes that you can start reading a book on your iPad at breakfast, continue on an Android phone as you take the train into work, and then switch to your computer at work, with no hassles whatsoever.

How comprehensive is the range of books on offer through Google? The search giant says it has scanned 50 million books in more than 100 countries as part of its Google Books initiative – a sizable chunk of the 130 million or so books Google estimates are available in a print edition. Of these, the company made more than three million available as eBooks. The best part for book lovers is that many (but by no means all) of these books are in the public domain and being offered for free.

If you like finding books in Google’s regular search results, don’t worry; that won’t change. In fact, you can get more of this if you go to, which lets you specifically search using only the books available in Google’s eBook format. While you’re there, you can also check out the latest arrivals (James Patterson’s Cross Fire is going for about $13), top-rated eBooks, and “the best of the free,” such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – the original, no-zombie edition.

While Google’s book scanning efforts have attracted controversy in the past, and in fact there are still a few unresolved issues, more than 4,000 publishers, booksellers and others are participating in this program, including Powells, Alibris and members of the American Booksellers Association. Even individual authors can participate; if you’re an author who is so inclined, you’ll want to start here. Google has set up revenue sharing agreements with all stakeholders, so at least in theory, everyone wins.

Except, possibly, Amazon. With a 65 percent share of the ebook market, this can’t be good news for the online book retailer. In fact, Amazon looks set to rely on ebook sales more than ever, since it noted recently that electronic books outsell hardcover books these days.

Just how strong is the company’s dependence on books and ebooks, though? Amazon has diversified far beyond books these days. In mid-October, the company reported quarterly sales of media, including books and music, totaled $3.35 billion. But electronics and other merchandise sales totaled close to $4 billion.

And Amazon has more than money working for it. It has the same dominance of the ebook space that Google has of the search engine space. Inertia can be hard to beat, and when you add in users’ investments in ebook readers, Google could be up against a lot of people reluctant to switch. On the other hand, an ebook that one could read anywhere, on any device, is a novel and seductive concept, reminiscent of the way books were meant to be read when you only had the dead tree edition. This could shape up to be quite the fight. Get me some popcorn…and the latest pot-boiler.

For more on this, check out the story from Search Engine Land:

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