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Google's move into e-books could be explosive

Reading e-books from any Web-enabled device seen as broadening use of the technology to a wider market

June 1, 2009 02:30 PM ET

Computerworld - E-books may have been a niche technology so far, but Google Inc.'s entry into the market could burst the online business wide open.

The giant search engine company wants to give publishers a way to sell online digital books through a partner program by the end of the year.

What may be most important in today's news is that Google wants to allow partner publishers to to make their books available for purchase from any Web-enabled device. That means a user could use any smartphone to download e-books, although some users of Amazon Inc.'s Kindle and the Sony Reader say smartphone screens are too small for prolonged reading.

"We've consistently maintained that we're committed to helping our partners find more ways to make their books accessible and available for purchase," Google said in a statement of its intent e-mailed to Computerworld. "By the end of this year, we hope to give publisher partners an additional way to sell their books by allowing users to purchase access to Partner Program books online. We want to build and support a digital book ecosystem to allow our partner publishers to make their books available for purchase from any Web-enabled device."

Analyst Rob Enderle said Google's announcement is significant and a challenge to online retailer "Google's entry could cause this e-book technology to explode ... Google has much greater reach than Amazon. As big as Amazon is, it is still basically just a retailer, but Google is the Web."

Separately, Amazon said today that it will launch its large-screen Kindle DX e-reader on June 10, earlier than it had originally planned.

Google's approach of supporting any device for accessing e-books will ultimately prevail. Enderle said. "People want to buy something and read it on anything they have," he added. "Google seems to be less concerned with keeping publishers happy and moving to the end game of giving the consumers the ability to buy what they want more freely."

While the Kindle device can be manipulated to be used as a Web browser and would seem to have easy access to Google books, it is intentionally set up to go directly to wirelessly for book purchases, Enderle said. Users could eventually download Google books through their desktop computer and e-mail them to a Kindle to read them, much as Enderle said he does today with all kinds of documents.

But Enderle warned: "The Kindle is not designed to work with this new Google process and would have to be modified to do so efficiently." The Sony Reader doesn't work wirelessly and requires users to access content first onto a desktop and then connect the Reader to the PC via a cable.

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