Google doesn't just want to organize the world's books online and make them easily accessible to readers through Google Book Search. The search engine giant covets the electronic book-selling market led by Amazon and its Kindle e-reader.
A Google executive told journalists at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany Oct. 15 that Google will sell electronic books to any device with a Web browser through its Google Editions online book store in the first half 2010.
Tom Turvey, Google's director of strategic partnerships, said Google will host and offer 500,000 e-books through deals with publishers, according to several sources. Customers will be able to buy the books from Google directly or from other online stores such as Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com, and access them through PCs, laptops and smartphones via their Google accounts.
Google will pay publishers 63 percent of revenues and keep 37 percent for itself where it sold e-books directly to consumers. Where e-books are sold through other online retailers, publishers would get 45 percent, with most of the remaining 55 percent would go to the retailer. Google would get a small revenue cut.
While Amazon is offering books through its Kindle device, soon to be available in 100 countries outside the U.S., Google is not focused on a dedicated e-reader or device of any kind. That approach is compatible with the way Google runs its other businesses. For example, the search giant released its Android mobile operating system to open source, allowing developers to modify it and for carriers to put it on as many mobile devices as possible.
At one million sold in 2008, e-readers have not exactly flown off of the shelves. However, falling prices could help push U.S. e-reader sales to 3 million in 2009, according to Forrester Research.
Amazon is not the only e-reader provider. Sony makes Sony Reader devices and Barnes & Noble is allegedly planning to build an e-reader complement the nline bookstore it launched in July.
Less clear is how Google Editions would operate with Google Book Search, a broad settlement with authors and publishers in the U.S. to scan the world's books online and let readers access them for fees.
The settlement is wending its way through the New York District Court system and, after a revision, is expected to be presented in court Nov. 9. However, it is unlikely a settlement will be approved until 2010, which is when Google Editions is expected to launch.
Requests for comment about how Google Editions and Google Book Search would work together were not returned as of this writing.
Amazon opposed Google Book Search on several grounds, including that it would enable Google to cultivate a monopoly over millions of "orphan works," or those books for whom a copyright holder cannot be found. Amazon also said Google, authors and publishers would have the power to fix prices at will.
Sony meanwhile has sided with Google, offering to sell 1 million of Google's 10 million scanned books through its Sony eBook Store.