Written by Frederic Lardinois / June 1, 2009
According to a report in the New York Times this morning, Google is getting ready to enter the eBook market by providing publishers with an infrastructure for direct-to-consumer sales. The Times reports that Google discussed this initiative with publishers at last weekend's BookExpo in New York.
According to the times, Google is mostly interested in creating an architecture that would enable publishers to do direct-to-consumer sales (with the checkout handled by Google Checkout, we assume). But there is also no reason to believe that this initiative could not include some kind of electronic store, maybe on top of Google's controversial Google Books service.
Competition for Amazon
Publishers will probably be happy to see more competition for Amazon, which, at $9.99, is holding the price for eBooks artificially low by subsidizing the price. Amazon also uses the cheap price of books as a way to sell more of its Kindle eBook readers. With its Kindle, Amazon also makes the most popular dedicated hardware eBook reader, with Sony's eReader a distant second. According to the Times, Google would allow publishers to charge whatever price they prefer.
Can Google Offer a Compelling User Experience?
As long as Amazon charges less than the publishers, and as long as the company offers a superior end-to-end experience for users, even a company like Google will have a hard time breaking into this market. As more and more hardware eBook readers enter the market, it will be interesting to see if Amazon will be able to hold on to its position as a market leader, and if Google will be able to create a compelling user experience.
Judging from the report in the Times, users would use their browser to access and read books. Given Google's emphasis on producing compelling products using HTML5, this would make sense, but most users would probably prefer a dedicated reader over a cached version of a book in their browsers (Google already offers browser-based versions of Google Books for iPhone and Android users). It is also not clear if Google will support any open eBook standards like ePub, or if it will implement its own format.
Context: Google Books
Google's desire to enter this market has to be seen in the context of Google Books and the Google Books settlement. Depending on the company's arrangement with the publisher, Google can already display up to 20% of the content of an in-print book, but when a consumer actually goes ahead and buys the book after browsing it on Google, the company only gets a small referral free. If Google could sell eBooks directly, it would stand to make a far larger profit.
On the one hand, it would be good to see some stronger competition in the eBook market for Amazon, which already acquired Lexcycle, the #2 eBook player on the iPhone this April. On the other hand, it is also important to note that with Google Books, Google also holds its own kind of monopoly for books on the Internet. After all, Google Books already makes 1.5 million out-of-copyright books available for free.