Google Editions e-book venture to launch by year's end

Recent federal court opinion on Google settlement with authors and publishers may have helped smooth the process

After months of delays, Google will launch its e-book retail business, now being called Google Editions, in the U.S. before the end of the year, a spokesman for the company confirmed today.

The spokesman gave no reason for the delay and declined to offer other details. A Google executive had said in May that the company planned to sell digital books last summer.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that the venture had cleared some technical and legal hurdles and that Google Editions would launch in the U.S. by year's end and internationally in the first quarter of 2011. A federal court recently gave preliminary approval to a settlement agreement between Google and authors and publishers, which apparently has provided further impetus for the Google e-book concept.

Under the Google system, independent booksellers are expected to be able to sell e-books through Google Editions -- and they have received contracts to make that happen, according to the WSJ report. Independent booksellers would benefit the most from Google's concept.

As early as May, Google was saying that it would allow people using a variety of devices to buy books from a broad range of Web sites. Google will compete against Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com and Apple, among others, but it could distinguish itself by providing access to a diversity of e-book sources and supporting multiple reading platforms.

Google is expected to allow people to make e-book purchases through Google accounts that they would access through a Web browser. Many smartphones, computers and tablets access the Web through a variety of Web browsers.

Google already offers a service called Google Book Search, which allows people to search and preview millions of books from libraries and publishers globally. The new Google Editions would allow users of Book Search to buy a digital copy of a book, and Google would allow book retailers to sell Google Editions books on their own sites.

It appears that Google Editions is moving forward now in part because of a U.S. District Court in New York's preliminary approval on Nov. 19 of a settlement between Google and authors and publishers. Google has described the agreement on its Web site.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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