Google Editions versus Google Books

With the impending full launch of Google Editions, I suspect there will be more than a little confusion between Google Editions and Google Books. They are not the same, and should not be seen as such. Let’s take a look at these two initiatives from Google.

Google Books

Previously known as Google Print and Google Book Search, this was initially two initiatives with both introduced in 2004. Google Print searched books scanned and converted to text by Google. Google Book Search was a project aimed at scanning the collections of major libraries and making the scanned books available for library researchers.

Around the time Google began its project to scan out-of-copyright books, other companies entered the same field. Microsoft was the largest of these companies, scanning library books into its Live Search service. In 2008 Microsoft closed their Live Search Books and Live Search Academic services after scanning 750,000 books and indexing 80 million journal articles.

Google’s initiative passed the 12 million books scanned mark in June 2010 and in August 2010 Google announced that it intends to scan all known 129,864,800 books by the end of the decade (estimated at over 4 billion digital pages and two trillion words in total).

Google Books has attracted a lot of attention, both positive and negative. On the positive side, it has been lauded for the potential it has to offer unprecedented access to what could become the world’s largest online body of human knowledge. On the negative side, it has been criticized for potential copyright violations.

This article is not intended to be an analysis of the legal or other issues surrounding Google Books. The project is being reviewed in the US courts and Google is trying to work with the various interested parties to arrive at an agreement to allow the project to proceed.

Google Editions

This is an initiative to launch an ebook retail store run by Google. The books will be stored online and purchases will be linked to the buyer’s Google account. Buyers will be able to read the books they purchase online, or download them to a cache for offline reading.

Public details are still sparse. Google has been making arrangements with many publishers to add their ebooks to the store and there is an expectation that the store will open with a collection of ebooks large enough to make it competitive with Amazon. It is also reasonable to assume that Google will be offering ebooks in multiple formats for reading on different devices (versus Amazon’s approach of only offering their own, proprietary format which requires either a Kindle reader or Kindle software installed on a reading device).

Google has also been making arrangements with independent booksellers to facilitate them being able to sell ebooks from the Google Editions web store and earn generous commissions. This has the potential to be important to the survival of independents, who have had a very difficult time in recent years.

An Important Distinction

I think it important we all distinguish between the two Google projects. I will leave you to decide how you feel about Google Books, with the suggestion that if the court action results in a viable agreement among the parties, it will be worth supporting. Too few people have access to libraries and just making truly out of copyright works available (as is already done by the Gutenberg Project and others) is a good thing.

I have stronger feelings about Google Editions. While there is currently a variety of ebook retail stores, almost every one is to some degree locked or heavily biased toward a single ereading device. Most ebook stores have a fairly limited selection of titles (usually somewhere in the hundreds of thousands). Amazon dominates the ebook supply to a degree that worries me; I prefer competition to monopoly or near-monopoly.

To its credit, Kobo is providing Amazon some competition by making its reading software available on a very wide range of devices. Barnes & Noble pushes its Nook ereader at customers, using a lock-in strategy. Sony makes its own, small-ish ebook store easy to use with its ereaders, but adding books from other sources varies from complicated to impossible. The arrival of Google Editions has the potential to open the market up dramatically.


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