Why You May Soon Be Using Google Editions
In a recent publishing-industry panel hosted at Random House’s New York offices, Google’s manager for strategic-partner development Chris Palma announced her company’s plans to unveil a new service early this summer. Called Google Editions, it will represent Google’s attempt to break into the book-selling business by offering a cross-platform marketplace for the written word. Google hopes to use their considerable industry bulk to push publishers of all shapes and sizes into their new store, where users can then purchase titles that will work on any device you can imagine.
It’s a bigger competitive advantage than you might think. Amazon sells books in their proprietary AZW file format, which doesn’t work outside of the Kindle and Amazon’s select software suites for the PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Blackberry. It’s caged content. Even Barnes & Noble utilizes a DRM version of the EPUB standard, which is much more portable than AZW, but still protected. Google is promising to lower the gates for consumers, tying books to a customer’s Google account, making them available on any device with a web browser. Oddly enough, Google hasn’t actually said how they plan to sidestep the biggest problem of an open marketplace like this – sharing and piracy.
Whatever Google is planning, it’s managed to assuage the major publishers, most of whom have already climbed onboard, according to recent reports. Google plans to have as many as four millions books, more than half out of print, available from Day One. When you stop and consider the long, hard slog that Amazon has had to go through to try and keep the prices of eBooks at reasonable levels, it’s interesting that Google has been able to just walk into this industry and lay down the law. They’ve convinced these big companies that it’s in their best interest to support a platform that seems to totally break down the copyright measures that they’ve fought so hard to put in. And they did it without Amazon’s retail track record OR having sold a single unit. I guess the pubs just took Google’s corporate motto “Don’t be evil,” as a promise in good faith.
However much this ends up taking away from the book industry’s bottom line, this is good news for readers. Barnes & Noble currently sets the industry standard for sharing, and even they only allow you to lend a book to a single person for a short period of time. If Google’s platform is really as share-happy as it’s been made out to be, you’ll be able to give anybody access to your entire library for free. Given the option to buy the same book in two different stores, are you going to buy the version from the store that you can only read on your authorized device or are you going to buy the version that you can share? I don’t think there’s any question.
With Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and now Google in the book-selling business, eBooks are taking it big, and competition on this scale usually favors the consumer. More than ever though, it’s important to be aware from whom you buy you media. The best way to get companies to lower their prices and drop draconian rights-management measures is by voting with your wallet. That’s the only way they’ll listen.