Google eBooks: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Google eBooks is either a boon for content and device providers within the eBooks ecosystem or a potentially devastating competitor.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

As Sam Diaz reported this morning, Google launched its e-books site this morning. No longer called Google Editions, the site is now called Google eBooks. While Sam asked if the Kindle and Nook can survive in the face of Google's entry into the market (I think the answer is yes), I'd suggest that Google will most likely just make platform-agnostic eBooks more mainstream than Amazon has with its Kindle apps for various platforms.

According to the Wall Street Journal,

...the Google e-book store will have a full complement of competitively priced best-sellers. It will also contain a wide array of scholarly, scientific and professional titles that may not be available elsewhere, making it "the largest e-book store on the planet," said Scott Dougall, a Google product management director.

Although available now only in the US, Google eBooks should be available internationally early in 2011.

OK, so it's big, it's widely available, it has hundreds of thousands of books for sale, and millions of free and public domain e-books. Does that make it a Kindle-killer? And what does it bring to the table for the entire e-book ecosystem?

I had a conversation last week with Copia Executive Vice President Ben Lowinger. Copia provides not only e-book sales but, more importantly, a sophisticated social layer to the reading experience. As evidenced by the extensive reviews and interactions on Amazon, as well as Copia's growing success, there is room for many angles and competitors in the e-book space.

Copia, for example, allows users, regardless of where they purchased their books (electronic or otherwise), to add them to a digital library for discussion, rating, and sharing on either Facebook or Twitter. For Copia, while a service like Google eBooks will hardly be good news for its e-books sales, the more people accessing and reading e-books on any platform and then discussing them on Copia is very good news for the stickiness and marketability of the site.

Better yet, for sites like Copia, Google allows external book sellers to leverage its reach. Google eBooks is an extension of its book search tool, which points users to various outlets for books. Thus, a user could find and purchase a book on Copia via Google's book search/store; for a cut of the sale to Google, Copia can drive more traffic to its arguably more important social services.

In fact, Copia would be a great acquisition target for Google, bringing a critical social aspect to Google's new bookstore that, as with all things Google, is missing.

Given that Google has adopted Adobe Digital Editions, the ability to use books purchased from Google eBooks on any EPUB/Adobe eBook-compatible is a significant advantage. While DRM remains a complicated issues with eBooks, the adoption of flexible formats moves us closer to solutions that make sense in libraries and schools and ensures that every device except the Amazon Kindle is compatible with books purchased from Google.

Amazon, as far as I'm concerned, with their closed (albeit highly successful) model, has made their bed on this one. However, Amazon is so entrenched and the Kindle is cheap and useful enough for straight reading that Google will hardly be the death of Amazon's e-book business, particularly with their cross-platform clients.

Google's real weakness here is that, while they bring new ways for partners to make money from their massive reach, and the bring a seriously platform agnostic approach to e-books, they once again fail to incorporate the social aspects that are increasingly vital to users embracing web applications.

My fingers, however, are doubly crossed (it's making it hard to type, but it's important) that Google eBooks will be integrated sooner than later with Google Apps, such that corporate or school libraries can make use of purchased works from within Apps. If anyone can sort out the DRM of shared book collections in a school and make them accessible from a collaboration platform, it's Google.

Thoughts? Talk back below.

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