The news has been floating around for a while, but Google finally made it official on Wednesday: Google Editions, their eBook store, launched on Monday.
What’s the big deal? Well, as many of us agree, the proprietary formats are just a pain. You can’t read Adobe DRM on Kindle, you can’t read AMZ on anything except Kindle-compatible devices, blah blah blah. (Although the Bluefire app, which reads Adobe-DRM books on Apple devices, just broke through a major barrier.)
Anyway, the difference with Google Editions is that their books are entirely Web-based. This means that you would be able to read books anywhere, on any device, as long you can connect to the internet and have a Web browser.
The tech media are talking it up, saying it makes a significant difference, that it will provide true competition to the juggernauts. And in a way it is. Without being tied to a proprietary format, readers can read on anything. Similar to most eBook stores, the purchased books will stay on your virtual bookshelf, which you can access as long as you have a Google account. Reading the fine print on the Google Editions page (which is directed at potential booksellers, not consumers), there are some points of interest:
- Price. Google Editions says they will “not allow partners to set a list price higher than 100% of the lowest print price”. Which, judging by what I’ve heard about some of the eBook price complaints, is a very good thing. The default price, unless specifically changed by the bookseller, is 80% of the lowest print price.
- Underdogs. Anyone can sell Google Editions, whether you’re Borders or North Boondock’s Ye Olde Book Shoppe. Also, most of the revenue will go to the bookseller, not Google. For the independent bookseller who hasn’t been able to access the electronic book market, this is great news.
- DRM. The bookseller can choose whether or not to apply DRM software to the books. Which could be good or bad, depending.
That’s all fine. But honestly, my first reaction to Google Editions was rather lukewarm. First of all, it’s not actually a new concept. NetLibrary, for instance, isn’t a particularly extensive eLibrary service, but it basically works the same way as Google Editions proposes to: Go online, sign into a library, and read a book on the Web. No Adobe Digital Editions, just Internet and a browser.
However, this is the cruncher: If an Internet connection and browser are necessary to read the book, then that’s a pretty big restriction for some people. Like me. Say I take my iPad on a tramp, or have a 12-hour flight ahead of me. Or, God forbid, I don’t have Internet at home. If can’t connect to the Internet, does that mean I can’t read a Google book? Presumably Google is thinking ahead, when the earth will be 40,000 square kilometres of free WiFi. But we’re not there yet, dude.
The details for consumers haven’t come out yet, and it’s all a wee bit vague right now. There may be a way to read Google Editions offline, so I’ll hold off from total judgment until we get the full range of possibilities. But so far, my reaction is definitely more guarded than enthusiastic.
– Jean AAR