In what could be interpreted as an aggressive move into Amazon territory, Google is planning to sell digital versions of new books directly to its users.
"The move would pit Google against Amazon.com, which is seeking to control the e-book market with the versions it sells for its Kindle reading device," observes The New York Times, which nonetheless pointed out that the move would be welcomed by publishers that feel Amazon's e-book pricing strategy is too severe.
"Clearly, any major company coming into the e-book space, providing that we are happy with the pricing structure, the selling price and the security of the technology, will be a welcome addition," said CEO David Young of Hachette Book Group.
It isn't just ebooks that have been a source of angst between publishers and Amazon. Late last year, a small collective of UK-based publishers began undercutting the rates for ordinary books on their own websites.
For its Kindle book reader, Amazon charges $9.99 for most best sellers — significantly less than the $26-$30 hardcovers vended in bookstores.
In contrast, Google stated publishers would be able to set rates for its own ebook market, with the search giant reserving the right to adjust prices it deems "exorbitant."
Kindle enjoyed surprising success when it first launched in late '07. By March 2008, Amazon admitted it was unable to meet demand for the e-reader — a medium some say is key to salvaging traditional media, including newspapers.
Google already has a program in place that enables publishers to provide it with digital files of new and out-of-print books. Users can search up to 20% of the books' content, then follow links from Google to online retailers — including Amazon — to buy them. But under its proposed ebook retail program, users will be able to purchase them directly from Google.
Readers will be able to access their purchases both online and offline, through cached versions on their browsers. And because the editions are browser-based, they can access these books on any device outfitted with an internet connection — not just e-readers.
"We don't believe that having a silo or a proprietary system is the way that e-books will go," stated Director-Strategic Operations Tom Turvey of Google.
Publishers at the recent BookExpo were reportedly optimistic about the program, The New York Times said.
Separately from its ebook retail program for new titles, Google has already availed 1.5 million (mostly out-of-print and public domain) books to searchers and mobile phone users. Around the same time, Amazon also released select titles on handhelds.
Earlier this year Google also inked a strategic relationship with Sony, whereby Google Books will provide copyright-free books on the latter's ebook Reader device — Amazon Kindle's main competitor.