Google announced Google eBooks and Google eBookstore on Monday, launching a long-anticipated cloud-based system to allow readers to buy e-books online from a choice of booksellers and to read them with a variety of devices.
Google's launch is essentially a cannonball into the e-book waters, promising to splash out all the water where e-book sellers Amazon and Apple now swim.
Google eBooks (previously code-named Google Editions) will be available through the new online Google eBookstore at Books.google.com, where readers in the U.S. can now purchase "hundreds of thousands" of titles and browse more than more than 3 million titles, said Abraham Murray, product manager of Google Books.
Until today, only searching and browsing were possible. The eBookstore will be activated for international users early next year.
Readers will access their e-books like messages in Gmail or photos in Picasa, using a free password-protected Google account that comes with unlimited e-book storage.
They will be able to purchase them from the Google eBookstore or from independent bookseller partners as well, Murray said.
As part of the Google eBooks announcement, Adobe Systems announced that its Content Server 4 software will provide digital rights management for the new system. Up to 85 devices across many platforms supporting Adobe eBook digital rights management (DRM) will be able to access Google eBooks, using PDF and ePub formats. The Adobe software is a part of the Google eBooks system being used by more than 200 book publishers and sellers.
Look out, Amazon?
Analysts said they believe Google's impact on e-book sales will be dramatic. "There's a lot Google can do with this business," said Forrester analyst James McQuivey in a classic understatement.
"This is really the first full cloud-based solution for publishers," added Gartner analyst Allen Weiner. "This is very huge, and it's something everybody has been waiting for, although nobody was exactly clear how it would be implemented."
Because the new e-bookstore is cloud-based, Google basically owns a "scalable, end-to-end infrastructure so it can take content from a book publisher and bring it to the cloud," Weiner said. "Google elevates itself to the infrastructure provider for the publisher, which is very powerful."
Through its search engine, Google gets billions of online searches every day, of which millions of searches are for books, McQuivey said. That's something Google is bound to take advantage of, he added.
"All Google has to do is train people away from going to Amazon when they have a book-related search question," he said. "Even if they are interested in new books, Google can give you samples of copyrighted books and say, 'Is this what you are looking for?' "
That search could then result in an easy sale, perhaps through an independent bookseller that Google has partnered with.
Weiner said that Google TV and Google search can be combined with Google eBooks so that a person who has done searches on Italy might get referrals to Google TV travel shows on Italy or e-books on Italy.
No Google e-reader?
Google has produced a full-featured Webkit browser, and also native free Android and Apple iOS applications for shopping for and reading for e-books, explained James Crawford, director of engineering for the Google eBooks team.
He said the system and browser, and native Android and iOS apps, have been fully tested internally four times, starting in July.
Crawford said that one advantage of the Google cloud approach is that users will have a common bookshelf where they can keep their purchases, which can be accessed from any number of devices without the need for a user to recall which device has a certain book.
However, the Google system currently won't allow e-book sharing, which some other systems support, and Google e-books cannot currently be integrated with books purchased from Amazon, Crawford said. Kindle is not supported because it uses a proprietary DRM system that means Google "cannot protect content if we put it on a Kindle."
Google didn't announce a special Google e-reader but has developed Android for a range of smartphones and tablets already that will serve that purpose, Crawford said. "The idea is that you can read these e-books on devices you already own," he said.